Groundbreaking Way to Prevent Viruses Like the Flu Sounds Scarier Than Getting the Flu

woman getting flu shot

Our national conversation around vaccination has reached a fever pitch. No matter what side of the issue you're on, researchers have news that could stand to change everything. Last month, scientists at Scripps Research Institute found that by delivering synthetic genes into the muscles of the monkeys, they could basically genetically "re-engineer" the animals to resist disease. In other words, an effective alternative to vaccination may be on the horizon.

 

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The scientists explained that they developed an artificial antibody that, once in the blood, grabbed hold of H.I.V. and inactivated it. The molecule eliminated the virus from infected monkeys and protected them from future infections. Pretty groundbreaking, right?

Now, the researchers are testing this approach not just against H.I.V., but on Ebola, malaria, the flu, and hepatitis. "The sky’s the limit," said Michael Farzan, an immunologist at Scripps and lead author of the new study. Wow.

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And beyond potentially replacing existing vaccines, Dr. Farzan and his colleagues are hopeful that the technique they're working on may be able to offer long-term protection against diseases for which vaccines have failed. So ... this may actually keep us healthier in the long-run.

It bears noting that this research is in the beginning stages; the first human trial based on this strategy -- called immunoprophylaxis by gene transfer, or I.G.T. -- is currently in the works, and others will have to be done, of course.

That said, several MAJOR questions remain, like ... Is this safe and effective in humans? Even if it is, are we okay with scientists genetically engineering us to resist infectious diseases? Kiiiinda freaky! That said, might this revolutionary tactic be even more controversial than vaccines?

But in the meantime, this news is certainly intriguing, promising, and potentially a sign of more advanced, effective way to protect the public's health.

What do you think about this potential vaccine alternative? Would you try it?

 

Image via iStock.com/fstop123

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