This year’s BRIght Futures Prize finalists are pursuing forward-thinking and inventive research to improve patient care. Each of the three finalists hopes to receive the $100,000 BRIght Futures Prize, which will be awarded at Discover Brigham on Thursday, Nov. 7. Read about their work below, and vote for your choice.
Mahmoud L. Nasr, PhD, RPh
Principal Investigator, Division of Renal Medicine and Division of Engineering in Medicine
What problem are you trying to solve?
Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a serious public health problem that affects up to one-third of the global population annually and causes hundreds of thousands of deaths every year. There are thousands of strains of the flu virus. Every year, scientists predict three to four strains that may be the most common in the upcoming season and reformulate the influenza vaccine (or flu shot) accordingly. As one can imagine, mismatches can occur between vaccine predictions and actual circulating strains. This mismatch can cause a decreased effectiveness of the vaccine and lead to patients getting infected with the flu even after having received a flu shot. Therefore, there is a pressing need to develop an effective and broadly reactive, or “universal,” influenza vaccine against both seasonal and newly emerging strains.
What is your solution, and how would the BRIght Futures Prize allow you to pursue this?
The flu virus contains a protein on its surface called hemagglutinin (HA), which enables the flu virus to enter a human cell. HA is made up of a head and a stem. The seasonal flu vaccines target mainly the HA head, which varies from season to season. The HA stem, on the other hand, is highly conserved — meaning that it remains relatively unchanged. We propose developing a universal influenza vaccine that displays part of the HA stem, sandwiched between two nanodiscs.
Nanodiscs are tiny structures that mimic the membranes that hold all cells together. We engineered nanodiscs that can form a “sandwich” structure so that when someone receives this flu shot, the immune system gets trained to recognize the HA stem on the surface of the influenza virus.
The BRIght Futures Prize will allow me to pursue this idea through funding, visibility and promoting collaboration.
How will your research project benefit people?
Imagine having to receive a flu shot only once or a few times in your life. This would eliminate the need for millions of primary care and pharmacy visits for influenza vaccine administration. This would prevent hospitals and nursing homes from needing to administer shots to all their patients and staff every year. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in the 2017–2018 flu season in the U.S., there were over 900,000 patients hospitalized with the flu and there were over 79,000 deaths. The increased effectiveness of this vaccine could decrease flu-related hospitalizations and deaths.
Collaborators and Affiliations:
Gerhard Wagner, PhD, Harvard Medical School
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