Flinders Medical Centre Foundation
Flinders Medical Centre Foundation

Bird Flu

Antibodies For Avian Influenza
First Published: Investigator - April 2006

Professor David Gordon, Dr Tania Sadlon and Dr Peter Hallsworth from Microbiology and Infectious Diseases are working on developing a new diagnostic test for Avian Influenza (Bird Flu).

The aim of this project is to develop a blood test to discover whether human antibodies can be formed when there is exposure to avian influenza.

The body’s immune system uses antibodies to identify and neutralise the effects of bacteria and viruses. They are very specific to a particular virus and can only develop when a person has been exposed to that disease. Importantly, they are required to develop immunity.

However, because the avian flu is not related to normal strains of influenza, humans have no pre-existing immunity to these viruses.

Using gene technology, the research team will clone the H5 surface protein of the avian flu virus, which by itself is harmless.

The H5 gene will then be introduced into a yeast cell which will continue to produce this small component of the virus for the researchers to use in developing the blood test. By extracting the H5 protein and adding a sample of blood they will be able to see if antibodies are formed and bind to it.

This will give an indication of the body’s natural ability to develop antibodies against the avian flu virus. From this testing it will be possible to determine how the disease may spread, how many people will develop immunity and, the potential number of people who may become infected.

Another potential benefit from this test is the ability to measure antibodies and see if a vaccine will be effective. This would involve administering the vaccine, then running the developed blood test to see if antibodies exist.

“If an outbreak were to occur then an understanding of the pattern of infection, the potential mortality rate and the level of infection is vitally important in preparing strategies to deal with this,” says Professor Gordon.

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