Closer to a Universal Vaccine? Stanford Medicine Scientists Hunt for a Vaccine That Fends Off Not Just a Single Viral Strain, But a Multitude

by Stanford Medicine senior science writer Bruce Goldman, January 8, 2024

Part 1: This is the first of a three-part series on how Stanford Medicine researchers are designing vaccines that might protect people from not merely individual viral strains but broad ranges of them. The ultimate goal is a vaccine with coverage so broad that it can protect against viruses never before encountered. Coming Wednesday: Part 2: A Cure for the Flus?

There were germs way before there were people. Fortunately, we've made friends or at least signed peace treaties with many of them. But others remain our enemies. Still others are a mutation or two away from slipping from one category into another. The annual sniffling season is upon us, as cases of COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus, and perennial old-timer influenza pile up. Lurking in the background: wild cards such as a killer avian influenza virus that is, as yet, not easily transmitted from one human to another. "During a wave of infections back in the 1990s, certain bird flu strains were killing half of the people who were getting them," said David Relman, MD, a Professor of Microbiology and Immunology and of Infectious Diseases, and the Thomas C. and Joan M. Merigan Professor at Stanford Medicine. "Fortunately, that wave petered out -- but what if that virus had mutated to become more transmissible among human beings?"

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