RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT: Health Sciences North

Promising Early Results for AMRIC Flu Study

A stronger dose of the flu vaccine could help seniors better fight the flu, according to the early results of a research project in Sudbury.

The five-year study is being led by Dr. Janet McElhaney, a geriatrician and Medical Lead for Seniors Care at Health Sciences North (HSN) in Sudbury, and Scientific Director of the Advanced Medical Research Institute of Canada (AMRIC), HSN’s research affiliate.

The study is funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, using a flu vaccine developed by Sanofi Pasteur, which is four times the strength of the usual flu shot.

Last year, approximately 75 people, mostly seniors 65 years of age and older, were given the higher-dose vaccine. Blood samples were also taken of the test subjects. Follow-up visits and analysis of the blood samples were conducted at 4, 10, and 20 weeks to gauge how well the immune system was responding to the stronger dosage.

Preliminary results show the higher-dose vaccine stimulated a stronger immune system response to the flu virus than the standard dose, which could improve the ability of seniors to avoid or fight the flu.

“We know that older people need a bigger boost to get the same protection from the flu vaccine than the general population, so that’s the rationale for a higher-dose vaccine,” says Dr. McElhaney. “We also know that the flu can also cause or worsen things like heart attacks, strokes, and may even contribute to falls for seniors. That’s why I’d encourage seniors to get their annual flu shot because it can contribute to your overall health. Even when the flu vaccine is a mismatch for the prevalent strain of the flu, it still provides you with more protection than if you didn’t get the shot.”

The blood test developed by Dr. McElhaney and her team also holds promise as an early indicator of how well a person will respond to the flu vaccine, either regular dose or high-dose.

Dr. McElhaney and her research team will continue to enroll between 75 and 100 new patients per year for the remainder of the study.

“Based on what I’ve learned so far, I would encourage seniors to get their annual flu shot,” says Dolores Higgins of Sudbury, one of the participants in the study. “I think it’s very important to take part in these studies because it helps the future generations, and I think we’re very fortunate to have Dr. McElhaney and AMRIC in Sudbury, to get the best medicines and treatments.”

Health Sciences North is the main medical referral centre for Northeastern Ontario. AMRIC’s research activities are focused in the areas of vaccine development, infectious disease, and cancer care.

“Research is health care, and the work being done by Dr. McElhaney is having a direct impact right now on the day-to-day health of people, particularly seniors,” adds Dr. Denis Roy, CEO of HSN and AMRIC. “This study again demonstrates the value of research for improving front-line health care.”

 

Health Sciences North is one of Ontario’s 24 research hospitals that contribute to a healthier, wealthier, smarter province. Look for other RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT posts on our Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter blog. To learn more about what’s needed to support Ontario’s health research enterprise, download our Policy Platform.