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Oxford launches new study to improve COVID-19 and flu vaccines

Oxford University’s Vaccine Group has launched a study on lymph node responses to vaccines in younger and older individuals. The trial may potentially improve vaccine design for different age groups.

The study (LEGACY03) receives £1.95 million of funding from the Medical Research Council and is enrolling volunteers. Participants must be between 18 and 45 years old or over 65 during screening. The enrollment lasts three months, based at the Centre for Clinical Vaccinology and Tropical Medicine, Churchill Hospital Oxford.

As people age, their immune systems change, and so do their vaccine responses. Understanding such changes allows vaccines to be better tailored for efficacy and protecting the vulnerable. 

The study’s Principal Investigator, Dr Katrina Pollock MRC, a Clinical Scientist at the Vaccine Group, characterised two challenges in adult vaccinology, namely, “the diversity of responses to vaccines in different people” and “making vaccines for targets that rapidly evolve, like COVID-19 and HIV”. 

The innovative study looks at immune responses at the cellular level, allowing the tailoring of “future vaccine design to get a better outcome for patients across the board”. 

Participants in the study will receive two licensed-for-use vaccines: an mRNA COVID-19 booster and a seasonal flu jab. Cells from the lymph nodes will be sampled using a technique called fine needle aspiration (FNA). A needle extracts cells and fluid from the lymph node. 

After vaccine administration to the arm, white blood cells go to the injection site and transfer some of the vaccine to lymph nodes in the armpit, where the response occurs. Instead of using antibodies in the blood to measure the vaccine’s output, the study visualises lymph nodes with ultrasound scanners and takes small numbers of cells from lymph nodes to observe their response. Scientists can then establish in detail how different vaccines work when paired with information on what happens in the blood.

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