URI professor hopes to produce universal flu, COVID vaccines with new platform

Health

Professor Xinyuan Chen and Ph.D. student Yiwen Zhao work in Chen’s lab on a virus-like particle platform they hope will help lead to a universal flu vaccine. (Courtesy: URI)

SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) — A University of Rhode Island professor has developed a novel virus-like particle platform that is designed to safely and effectively deliver vaccines to the body.

Dr. Xinyuan Chen believes the platform could be the next step in the development of a universal flu and coronavirus vaccine.

“The universal flu vaccine is a concept that would allow us to protect multiple viral strains,” Chen said. “Proteins are the functional components of our cells. When the virus mutates, not all parts of the protein mutate. So we have found there are some regions of the protein that are highly conserved; they are not mutating from year to year. So from that conserved region, we are potentially able to develop a universal vaccine.”

Chen received a $200,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to research and develop his vaccine platform. He also utilized that funding to develop new vaccines using the safer method of delivery.

The platform includes the use of flagellin, a natural protein that is used as a carrier for vaccines, and an agonist that stimulates an immune response in the body.

Flagellin can sometimes overstimulate the immune system, but Chen said he has discovered that, by applying the flagellin to the surface of a virus-like particle, the body’s immune system will react positively without overstimulation.

“Our human body has a mechanism to recognize pathogens. By developing the vaccine with virus-like particles, our bodies can more strongly respond to that type of vaccine,” Chen explained.

“Virus-like particles don’t replicate inside the body, so they are very safe,” he continued. “If you put the virus in, it could potentially revert to its infectious status, maybe in the immunocompromised population. So the virus-like particle is a highly immunogenic, safe vaccine platform.”

Chen has a patent currently pending for his vaccine platform, which his lab will use to attempt the development of a universal flu vaccine, which would protect people from multiple viral strains.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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