Going Beyond B Cells in Search of a More Multi-Targeted Vaccine

by Stanford Medicine senior science writer Bruce Goldman, January 12, 2024

Part 3: This is the last of a three-part series on how Stanford Medicine researchers are designing vaccines that protect people from not merely individual viral strains but broad ranges of them. The ultimate goal: a vaccine with coverage so broad it can protect against viruses never before encountered.

Until now, vaccine efforts have mainly focused on stimulating B cells, described and discussed in Part 1 and Part 2. These antibody-producing immune cells' virtue of being highly specific in what they target is also a vice. An antibody against influenza is unlikely to ever bind to, say, a coronavirus or a rabies virus. Even when a virus mutates in some small way that distorts or disguises one of its biochemical bull's-eyes, antibodies that worked before (because they aimed at that particular bull's-eye) are now ineffective. The adaptive immune system is supported by a far more evolutionarily ancient consortium of cells and sensors called the innate immune system. While the adaptive immune system takes a week or two to fire up its carefully tailored response to a detected pathogen, the innate system leaps into action almost immediately. It can do this because it's far less fastidious -- it operates via simple pattern recognition.

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