Page last updated at 13:32 GMT, Thursday, 2 July 2009 14:32 UK

Swine-flu trial volunteers needed

A man has his blood pressure read
More volunteers are needed to take part in the second stage of trials

A universal flu vaccine being developed at Oxford University could protect people against avian and swine flu pandemics, scientists have said.

It works by increasing the body's "T cell" response to infections by up to 10 times. T cells are part of the immune system that kill infected cells.

Team leader Dr Sarah Gilbert has asked for volunteers for the second clinical trials in Oxfordshire and Southampton.

If successful the vaccine, MVA, could be available in three years time.

Dr Gilbert said MVA was made from a safer relative of the Vaccinia virus used to immunise against smallpox, to which they had added some influenza proteins.

The live virus is very weak, so it does not spread around the body. Although the recipient experiences no symptoms it triggers the immune system T cell response to fight infections, she added.

Test tubes
England's chief medical officer is aware of the trials

The vaccine is "relatively simple to manufacture on a large scale" and would offer between five to 10 years' protection, she said.

It was first tested on a group of 28 healthy people in clinical trials in 2008.

The team of four full time staff and four support staff at the Nuffield Department of Clincial Medicine, Oxford University, is working in partnership with Southampton Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Facility.

Urgent need

They need to screen about 260 people to find enough suitable volunteers for trials, due to be completed by September.

Dr Gilbert said: "We are looking for people from Southampton and Oxfordshire with very few antibodies who have not been exposed to much flu. Most medical staff receive an annual flu vaccine and would be inappropriate for this trial."

Dr Gilbert said she was in talks with chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson to see if the testing process could be accelerated.

Mr Donaldson said in June tens of thousands of swine flu cases could be emerging each week by autumn.

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