IT is one of the holy grails of modern medicine and would save millions of lives across the globe every winter.
Scientists in Southampton are about to start clinical trials of a new vaccine that could protect against almost multiple strains of flu – including pandemics such as swine flu.
But the team at Southampton General Hospital needs the help of the people of Hampshire to realise their potentially Noble Prize-winning dream.
They today called for volunteers to come forward to take part in the groundbreaking research, which is due to begin in just two weeks.
As the death toll from the global swine flu pandemic tops 1,000 and with 110,000 new cases diagnosed in the UK in the past week, the eyes of the world will be on the Southampton trial.
Anyone healthy and aged between 18 and 45 can take part. Initially, volunteers will have a blood test to see if they are immune to a particular strain of flu.
Dr Tom Havelock, who is co-ordinating the Southampton trial for the Wellcome Trust, said 26 people who do not have this immunity will then go ahead to trial the “universal vaccine”.
Since the Echo first reported on the trial last month about 20 of the places have been filled, but with time running out there are still remaining places.
The challenge for the scientists is that only about one in ten candidates are suitable, as most have already been exposed to this particular strain of flu sometime in the past couple of years.
Once the 26 have been selected, Dr Havelock explained that 14 of the volunteers would be injected with the vaccine in mid-August at the hospital.
The only possible side-effects they might experience are mild flu-like symptoms and a sore arm for 24 hours, while the remaining 12 volunteers will not be vaccinated.
About one month later they will travel to a research facility in London where they will all be exposed to a strain of flu.
They will be exposed with a couple of drips into their nose and then spend the next ten days in isolation at the facility, which Dr Havelock described as a “comfortable hospital” with a vast DVD library.
If all goes to plan, those given the vaccine should only suffer very mild symptoms while the others will have to endure the flu as doctors monitor their temperature.
In return they will receive a payment, but due to ethical guidelines Dr Havelock was unable to reveal the amount.
“The one unknown that we are dealing with is that we are giving people a vaccine that will strongly boost their immune system against the flu and then we are giving them the flu,” Dr Havelock said.
“The one thing we haven’t tested in clinical trials is the effect of the immune system to the flu challenge, but this is going to be tested on two volunteers in Oxford in August prior to the big trial in Southampton. It really is very safe.”
He added: “If this technique works it is going to be really world-shattering stuff, because it could save thousands of lives in the UK alone every year and possibly lead to new vaccines for TB and malaria.”
If you are interested in taking part, contact recruitment coordinator Gemma Neal on 023 8079 6322 or email email@example.com.