With all the different strains of the influenza virus including H7N9, H1N1 (Swine Flu), H5N1 (Bird Flu), H3N2v, and the seasonal flu, developing an adequate remedy for all or even one of its variations has continued to be problematic for health care professionals. A study conducted at the University of St. Andrews in the UK may have stumbled across a novel treatment that has the potential to prevent all strains of the flu virus.

“The work is very exciting and potentially of great importance in this era of emerging viruses like H7N9 that have pandemic potential.” co-author of the study and one of the foremost influenza experts in the world, Dr. Robert Webster, said in a statement.

Webster and his colleagues from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, UK, and St. Andrews synthesized novel proteins known as biologics. These proteins are specifically designed to mask certain sugar molecules in the body that line the respiratory tract. In order for the influenza virus to gain access into our cells and start the infection process, it must first bind to these sugar molecules.

Laboratory mice were able to develop their own “frontline defense” after they were given a single dose through the nostril seven days before they were introduced to a lethal strain of the H1N1 virus. Not only did mice survive the lethal strain of the flu virus, but they were also able to form antibodies that served as a “vaccination” against future influenza exposure.

“We anticipate our novel preventative approach being used as a frontline defense against new pandemic strains before an effective vaccine is developed, but the approach could also be used routinely against seasonal strains to protect health and care workers,” said senior research fellow at the University of St. Andrews, Dr. Helen Connaris.

According to the World Health Organization, influenza epidemics affect five to 15 percent of the world’s population every year. The annual death toll for the flu virus can reach upward of 500,000 people, making it a constant worldwide health threat. Although Tamiflu and other antiviral medications have been suggested for treatment and prevention of the flu virus, a recent Cochran study has challenged their effectiveness.

“We believe that our approach has the potential to be used as a preventative against any current and new virus that emerges, such as H5N1, H7N9 and the very recent H10N8,” the research team explained. “Given that several other respiratory pathogens use the same entry route for infection, then our approach has a potentially broader application.”

Source: Thomas R, Webster R, Connaris H, et al. Prevention of influenza by targeting host receptors using engineered proteins. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2014.