Volunteers Needed for Two Flu Vaccine Studies

October 10, 2012

Rochester researchers seeking to protect people from potential flu pandemics in the future are seeking volunteers to help them better understand how flu vaccines work.

Doctors and nurses at the University of Rochester Medical Center are seeking 38 healthy people between the ages of 18 and 42 for the studies, which pay $650 or $1,700, depending on the study.

The studies are being led by John Treanor, M.D., an internationally known flu expert who heads the University’s Vaccine Research Unit.

Treanor says the studies are an important component of preparation in case another pandemic flu virus – a virus that spreads from person to person, infecting people across the globe – occurs. The last one occurred in summer 2009, when a strain of flu known as novel H1N1 sickened tens of thousands of people in a matter of weeks. Protecting against this once-novel H1N1 is now part of this year’s routine, seasonal flu shot.

The two new studies, funded by the National Institutes of Health, will look at the effects on our immune system of two experimental vaccines designed to protect against other, still-novel forms of bird flu. Both vaccines are given as a squirt up the nose, like the approved FluMist® vaccine, made by MedImmune, because both contain live virus.

Physicians want as many tools as possible to fight the flu, and thus far, several experimental live flu vaccines have failed to protect people, for reasons scientists don’t yet understand. Scientists like Treanor are trying to identify biomarkers – levels of certain antibodies, or proteins, for instance – that will predict a vaccine’s effectiveness.

The two vaccines under study are designed to protect against forms of bird flu that scientists think could possibly cause pandemics in the future. Participants in isolation will receive an experimental vaccine against two bird flu strains, either H2N3 or H9N2, while outpatients will receive the seasonal form of FluMist that many people will receive this year to protect themselves. The experimental vaccines are also made by MedImmune.

“We want as many options as possible in the event of a pandemic,” said Treanor, “and that includes the possible use of live vaccines. We need to do some work to understand how the body responds to these vaccines, so we can be prepared to move quickly if necessary.”

In these studies, researchers will employ sophisticated technology to explore in new ways whether the vaccines would protect the recipients. Oftentimes, the measure of success – besides whether the vaccine actually works in the real world – is the level of antibodies a vaccine brings about in the blood. In these studies, researchers will look at several factors in addition to antibodies, including levels of proteins and signaling molecules known as cytokines, to see if a pattern emerges that predicts a successful vaccine.

In these studies, all participants will receive a vaccine. One group of 14 people will be immunized with either FluMist® or a placebo at the University of Rochester Medical Center, then will be asked to return 12 times, to monitor their health and levels of certain blood proteins. The other group will include 24 people who will be immunized against H2N3 or H9N2, or who will receive a placebo, at the group’s isolation unit at Unity’s St. Mary’s campus, where they will stay for 12 days as they have their health monitored and their blood drawn.

Anyone interested in participating should call the unit at (585) 273-3990. Participants must be in good health, not pregnant, and not allergic to eggs.

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