Biomedical engineering is a branch of engineering that applies principles and design concepts of engineering to healthcare. Biomedical engineers deal with medical devices such as imaging equipment, biocompatible materials such as prostheses or therapeutic biologicals, or processes such as regenerative tissue growth.
Universal Vaccine for Flu Treatment
The flu is universal, it exists nearly everywhere in the world, occurring every year, without fail, and killing half a million people per year. Caused by the Influenza virus, the flu is difficult to treat and to prevent: the virus exists in many forms and is constantly changing and mutating meaning that each year a new flu vaccine (which immunizes against multiple strains) is developed to provide immunity to the different forms that circulate the globe. Due to the widespread nature of the flu, and the damage it does every year, research into more broadly effective “universal” flu-shots is a hot topic, and a group of researchers think their analysis could lead to an alternative approach to creating just such a vaccine.
While looking at human antibody responses following the 2009 H1N1 virus, or “swine flu” pandemic, the researchers began to notice some bizarre patterns in their data. Like most seasonal flues which change year-to-year, the 2009 strain of H1N1 is antigenically distinct from more recent seasonal H1N1 strains, and is distant relative of the virus that caused the devastating “Spanish Flu” of the early 20th century. While the team was going through the data about how well people’s anitibodies could target the new flu, they hit the “sort” button on a spreadsheet document, arranging all samples by age of the donor. Different aged people, they found, mount vastly different antibody responses to pandemic H1N1, depending on whether or not they were exposed to a seasonal H1N1 years earlier. Effectively giving them the power to predict the body’s response to the flu based on the year that they are born.
The team thinks that by sequentially giving different vaccines against various different flu strains from the past, we can tune our immune systems to recognise the “conserved” regions, those that change very little as time goes on; the findings will also help trace world disease, allowing experts to better identify new virus strains and quickly determine treatment strategies.