Another shot at the flu

Targeting caspases may prevent flu-associated death in the elderly

While most efforts to suppress flu focus on boosting the immune system through vaccination, a group at Yale University has found evidence showing it is the inflammatory response to infection, not the infection itself, that is responsible for flu-related death. Using a mouse model of an "old" immune system, the group identified specific caspases as key players in the process, and suggests inhibiting the targets could prevent flu complications in the elderly.

Although the vulnerability of older patients to the flu is well documented, it isn't known whether that results from an inability to mount an effective immune response, an incapacity to develop tolerance to the inflammation that accompanies fighting the flu once infected, or both.

Akiko Iwasaki, principal investigator on the study and a professor of immunobiology and of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology at Yale University, told BioCentury that about 90% of deaths caused by influenza infection are in the elderly, but that "currently there's really no good treatment" for the population.

She said existing antivirals, which target all ages, aren't a practical choice for the elderly because "by the time older people come in to the hospital with flu they already have a very high titer

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