ANN ARBOR (WWJ) – University of Michigan researchers believe they have made a significant breakthrough in determining why some people get the flu and others don’t.
Professor Alfred Hero said it all comes down to your immune system and how it responds to the flu virus.
“That implies that the acute inflammation response is something that really distinguishes between the people that are able to fight off the virus, versus those that aren’t. Those that are able to fight it off don’t get this signature.”
Hero’s analysis group used several methods to discover the genomic signatures associated with immune response and flu symptoms.
Using these genomic signatures, researchers compared the responses of previously healthy participants inoculated with the flu, and found significant and complex immune responses in both people who got sick and those who did not.
The gene expression data gets to the heart of how the immune system reacts and orchestrates its response to the flu virus, which dictates whether people get sick.
Hero’s team looked at over 22,000 genes in 267 blood samples. The team inoculated 17 healthy individuals with the flu virus and about half of them got sick. They then collected gene expression data from each individual at 16 time points over 132 hours. These data provided a clear picture of the gene expression over time in those who developed flu symptoms and those who did not.
Hero said the inflammatory genomic signature that differentiated the well group from the sick group was measurable up to about 36 hours before peak flu symptoms developed. It may, therefore, be possible to detect illness early, allowing people to take precautions and perhaps even prevent the worst symptoms.
The researchers hope the study will help scientists develop potential therapies to prevent the flu or at least detect it much earlier.