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Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation receives $2.6 million flu grant

OKLAHOMA CITY - We know it was a particularly bad flu season this past year. The State Department of Health reports 288 Oklahomans died from the flu since the season started in September.

Scientists at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation are hoping to find a more effective vaccine for the future.

Not only are symptoms of the flu miserable - they can be deadly too, killing anywhere between 12,000 to 56,000 Americans a year.

Dr. Pepe Alberola-Ila is one of several scientists around the country studying how the body responds to the flu.

"New strains of the virus arise from poultry or pigs in southwest Asia, and they get transferred to people there,” he said.

Alberola-Ila said global health organizations then monitor the flu in swine and predict what will be the most common strain in the western world. This past year's vaccine was only 36 percent effective, according to the CDC.

A universal vaccine would take the guess work out of the equation, which is what OMRF hopes they'll be able to help find. OMRF discovered that a type of cell called 'NKT cells' better protects lab mice from the virus.

"What we find is our mice respond better so they need less sleep, they lose less weight and the recover more than normal mice,” Alberola-Ila said.

Through a $2.6 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Alberola-Ila will now be able to research why these types of cells have a better response to fighting infection with the end goal to change the way we fight off the flu.

"Try to devise a way to generate a vaccine that recognizes all flu strains,” he said.

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