University of Wisconsin scientists published research on an alternative vaccine approach Tuesday, which could aid in efforts to create a universal flu vaccine and develop a COVID-19 vaccine.

The research captures the capacity of a T-cell-based vaccine approach to provide broader protection of the immune system against respiratory illnesses, according to a UW news release. T-cells are a type of white blood cell that kills viral illnesses through an immune response.

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Professor of immunology in the School of Veterinary Medicine Marulasiddappa Suresh led the study. In an email statement to The Badger Herald, Suresh said the experimental vaccine would be administered through the nose to provide long-lasting, localized immunity possibly paving the way for a universal vaccine that would last for years after administration.

“There is an interest for developing a vaccine that protects against multiple strains of influenza virus – a universal influenza vaccine,” Suresh said. “The vaccine approach used in this study is predicated on inducing antiviral T-cells instead of antibodies … T-cell responses to this protein are expected to provide broader immunity.”

Current flu vaccines in the market aim to stimulate antibodies, Suresh said. Though, these antibodies protect against the flu by targeting specific strains. Strains of the flu mutate from year to year, which is why the vaccine must be re-administered each year to address new predicated strains.

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Since T-cells are able to differentiate between different strains of infections, the study’s T-cell vaccine strategy could address multiple strains through a single vaccine. In addition to creating avenues for a universal flu vaccine, Suresh said UW researchers believe the T-cell research could aid in current efforts to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.

“There is accumulating evidence that both T-cells and antibodies might be required to protect against COVID-19,” Suresh said. “We believe that the vaccine approach used in the experimental influenza vaccine can also be repurposed to induce T-cells that fight COVID-19 in the respiratory tract.”

The recently published study showed the T-cell vaccine approach provided long-lasting immunity against multiple strains of the flu for at least 400 days after administration, according to the UW news release. Researchers will take the next step in testing the T-cell vaccine by testing it in ferrets and nonhuman primates.

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UW researchers are also working on the development of an experimental COVID-19 vaccine with the T-cell method in response to the positive results from the T-cell flu vaccine, according to the UW news release. Researchers are conducting laboratory tests to measure the COVID-19 T-cell vaccine’s effectiveness in mice and hamsters.

Initial unpublished studies in mice indicate the T-cell COVID-19 vaccine produces strong T-cell immunity in the lungs, according to the UW news release.