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Call for volunteers to help combat 'bird flu'

As Asia is grappling with an outbreak of ‘bird flu’ that has jumped to man, a world leading researcher, Karl Nicholson, Professor of Infectious Diseases at the University of Leicester and the Leicester Royal Infirmary, is seeking local volunteers to help test vaccines against this disease.

The work in Leicester is sponsored by the Department of Health, and is being carried out with the Health Protection Agency, the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control, and international vaccine manufacturers.

Professor Nicholson commented: “We have no vaccines against the new H5 variant of bird flu yet, and won’t have one for several more months at least. We need volunteers to test a vaccine against H9 bird flu, which like H5 has jumped from birds into man in the Far East.

“We did a small trial with H9 vaccines at the Leicester Royal Infirmary and the results were published in The Lancet before Christmas, but we need another 600 volunteers to test more vaccine formulations to see which is the best.

“The H9 trial won’t protect people against the H5 virus, but the work may help us respond more effectively to a pandemic of H5 influenza, or another strain, when it occurs. It is likely that vaccines against the new H5 virus will also be tested locally when they are developed.”

Professor Nicholson’s work to date indicates a number of problems in developing effective vaccines against bird flu, including the strong likelihood that it will be necessary to give two doses of vaccine, and even then the antibody responses may be less than optimal.

The research findings published in The Lancet on vaccines for both an H5 strain of bird flu that caused the outbreak in 1997 and an H9 virus that subsequently occurred in China and Hong Kong, suggested that, although the vaccines were safe and well-tolerated, a single dose is likely to be inadequate.  

This research is highly significant and the resulting data were presented at a meeting hosted by the US National Institutes of Health with World Health Organisation participation.

Professor Nicholson has been working in collaboration with Dr John Wood at the National Institute of Biological Standards and Control (NIBSC) and Dr Maria Zambon, at the Health Protection Agency Central Laboratory in Colindale, London.

The vaccines were made by several vaccine manufacturers (Chiron, Bema Biotech, and Solvay) using vaccine seed provided by Dr Wood.  

Dr Zambon carried out the laboratory studies together with Dr Iain Stephenson from Leicester Royal Infirmary, while clinical trials were carried out at the Leicester Royal Infirmary, often with nurses who had volunteered their help. The work was supported by the Department of Health.

·      People wishing to find out more about this study with a view to taking part can contact Professor Nicholson through Sheila Hewitt at the University of Leicester Department of Infection, Immunity, and Inflammation, telephone 0116 252 2951.

University of Leicester Press Release: University of Leicester researcher leading trials on bird flu vaccine

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Last updated: 11 March 2004 11:00
Created by: Barbara Whiteman

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