A new paper in the journal Science showed that a therapy based on llama antibodies could protect mice from otherwise lethal doses of the flu.

In theory, the technique could eventually be used to manufacture a nasal spray that would provide long-term protection against all types of the flu.

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The researchers created a synthetic antibody that’s sort of a Frankenstein mash-up of four different llama antibodies, but they didn’t inject it into the mice like a traditional vaccine. Because really, this isn’t a vaccine. Vaccines work by exposing and training your immune system—this is more like gene therapy. Researchers packaged genetic instructions to make the antibody into a harmless virus, then sprayed that virus into mice noses. The virus then entered the mouse cells and “infected” them with the antibody instructions, prompting their nasal cells to start producing the antibody on their own.

To test if the antibodies would work, the researchers exposed different groups of mice to different strains of the flu at lethal doses. Mice given a placebo nasal spray pretty much all died in a week or two, but mice who got the highest doses of the real spray were all spared (mice who got a middling dose mostly survived, but a few died).

Most importantly, the spray did all of this without having to train the rodents’ immune systems. Young, healthy people who get the flu shot tend to build a robust defense against the influenza virus. But older people or those with compromised immune systems often aren’t able to train their B cells to the same extent, meaning they get less protection from the flu vaccine.

Read more at www.popsci.com