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Area Families Sought for Flu Surveillance Study

Researchers need 100 families for multi-year study of how flu interacts with the body

Friday, October 17, 2008

To be eligible for the study, families must be in good health, consist of at least three members, have at least one child 4 years old or younger, and plan to live in the Rochester area for at least two years.

Beginning immediately, University of Rochester researchers hope to recruit 100 area families for a multi-year surveillance study that aims to better understand how the body fights flu.

New insights gleaned from this community study – especially, into how antibodies are marshaled to ward off flu viruses, both upon immunization and infection – could pave the way for more effective vaccines and less-deadly pandemics. The study is a centerpiece of the 7-year, $26 million New York Influenza Center of Excellence ( (NYICE), which the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) awarded to the University of Rochester just last year.

“This surveillance study underpins multiple NYICE projects, feeding a steady stream of data that we hope will help us shed new light on flu, a preventable disease that still kills 35,000 people each year,” said John Treanor, M.D., principal investigator heading the NYICE, and chief of the Infectious Diseases Division at the University of Rochester Medical Center. “Recent avian flu outbreaks, which have the potential to graduate into another worldwide pandemic, have spawned a real renaissance in flu research. We hope this increased attention – and these new projects – bear clues that will ultimately help us improve vaccine protection.”

Since flu is a trendy virus, with different “popular” strains rising to the forefront each year, last season’s antibodies often serve little use when matched up against new variants. As a result, vaccine developers, similar to meteorologists who predict tomorrow’s weather, are faced with the tough task of tracking and interpreting trends to forecast which strains will likely be predominant in the coming year.

New surveillance data could provide important hints into how to develop a more durable vaccine – one that confers added protection against more strains for more years. Such a cross-protective vaccine could help eliminate developers’ need to scramble to produce annual versions – a rushed, sometimes fiddly process that’s often riddled with shortages, delays, and even vaccine-strain mismatches.

“People think we know more about the flu than we do. It’s amazing how little we actually understand,” added David Topham, Ph.D.,associate professor of Microbiology and Immunology at the Medical Center, and co-director of the NYCIE. “While our knowledge of the immune system has grown dramatically, design and study of current vaccines simply haven’t kept pace. We have yet to tap a crucial part of our body’s immune response in the fight against flu.”

Topham’s research focuses largely on T-cells, which are located in the lungs and serve as the body’s very first line of defense against the flu, attacking the virus in the first few days while other parts of the immune system rev up.

“We’ve come far, but not far enough,” Topham said. “For instance, we know that T cells order B cells to make certain antibodies, but we don’t know how T-cells send these specific instructions; if we could, we might be able to manipulate this message to incite a more effective immune response.”

The Rochester investigators are seeking 100 local families to participate in this unique research opportunity. To be eligible, families must be in good health, consist of at least three members, have at least one child 4 years old or younger, and plan to live in the Rochester area for at least two years.

Families may choose whether or not they receive flu shots (the project will not provide them routinely), and will be required to come in twice each year for routine follow-ups during which investigators will obtain health information, vaccine history, and a small blood sample from each participant. Additionally, should a participant become sick with flu, he or she will be asked to track symptoms on a secure Web site and make an additional visit to the study’s flu clinic (a throat swab will be taken).

Time and travel expenses will be compensated, with each participant receiving either $25 (adults), or a Toys R Us gift cards (children), per visit.

A more detailed description of the study objectives and design is available at; for further information, or to enroll, please call the Vaccine Research Unit at (585) 273-3990.

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