Created by researchers from The Pirbright Institute, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and University of Oxford, tools have allowed scientists to understand “vital” area of pig immune system.

A scientific breakthrough in pig immunology that could lead to the creation of more powerful and effective influenza vaccines has been hailed a “huge step forward”.

The tools, which have allowed scientists to understand a “vital” area of the pig immune system previously inaccessible, were created by researchers from The Pirbright Institute, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and University of Oxford. It shows how immune cells in pigs – CD8 (killer) T cells – are recruited in large numbers in the lungs after infection with influenza or aerosol vaccination.

The newly created tools can be used to identify virus proteins recognised by the immune system, offering the potential to design more effective vaccines.

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Such methods can also be applied to other pig diseases, such as foot-and-mouth disease and African swine fever.

Published in PLOS Pathogens, the breakthrough research used a unique line of Babraham inbred pigs to develop novel tools for examining T cell responses against flu infection or vaccination.

As the study brings methods for studying immune cells in pigs up to the same standards as those available for humans and mice, it is now possible to track the number and location of T cells in pig blood and tissues during infection, which can help determine the ability of vaccines to induce T cell immunity.

It has also enabled researchers to predict which proteins will be recognised by pig T cells, therefore, providing valuable information for vaccine improvement or development. T cells can provide protection against multiple strains of flu, but existing vaccines are unable to activate them effectively.

It is hoped the study will, therefore, initially pave the way for a better understanding – and then the creation – of more robust vaccines to aid the fight against disease and infection control.

Elma Tchilian, head of the mucosal immunology group at Pirbright, said: “The main breakthrough is we can now measure the cellular immune response in pigs to vaccines and infections. While a universal vaccine is the Holy Grail of this research, developing a vaccine strategy to protect humans, pigs and birds – which are the main source of new influenza viruses – would be a huge step forward in preventing a disease.”

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