Thanks to the “digital twin” simulated the universal vaccine against influenza

Thanks to the “digital twin” simulated the universal vaccine against influenza

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Developing a universal vaccine against influenza thanks to a digital twin of the human immune system: this is the new frontier made possible thanks to the virtual patient developed in Italy. The study coordinated by Francesco Pappalardor, of the University of Catania, as part of the activities carried out by Spokes 8 In Silico medicine and Omics Data of the National ICSC Center, published in the magazine Bmc Bioformatics. With this, scientists have demonstrated how it is possible to reduce the time required to select an effective vaccine formula for protection against the H1N1 influenza virus.

“Uiss is a digital copy of the human patient, in particular of his immune system, and is thus able to predict the effects of a drug therapy without proceeding by trial and error and carrying out tests on animals. A replication that can be achieved on the basis of the data of each specific individual”, explained Pappalardo, expert in computational biomedicine and co-leader of ICSC’s Spoke 8.

The digital twin

Acronym for Universal Immune System Simulator (Uiss) it is the most advanced digital twin, a sort of perfect virtual replica, of the human immune system in the world and aims to open the doors to so-called individualized medicine, i.e. the development of drugs and therapies created for a specific patient.

The approach that makes use of bioinformatics resources, and consequently the necessary computing capacity that they require, certainly does not constitute a novelty for the vaccinia sector, as also demonstrated by the circumstances that led to the creation, in record time, of the first vaccines against Covid. Since the early 2000s, the advent of similar tools has in fact coincided with the birth of the so-called reverse Vaccinology, which makes it possible to identify the antigenic sequences having the best probability of inducing an immune response starting from the genetic sequencing of a pathogen.

The development of vaccines in the past

“In the past – underlined the coordinator of the study – the vaccine development process took place essentially by trial and error”. After an initial in vitro experimentation to define the possible strategies, we moved on to tests on animals which had to prove the effectiveness of the drug or vaccine. Only in a positive case could we move on to human trials. “Procedures that require a lot of time and important economic resources and which do not ensure full success”, specified the Italian researcher. Adding: “Today, however, thanks to bioinformatic support we are able to very quickly extract the components that can best stimulate the immune response already in the genetic sequencing phase of the pathogen studied”.

The replication of the immune system

By creating a digital replica not only of the pathogen to be analyzed but also, and here is the great news, of the human immune system, UISS potentially allows applications in all medical fields, concretely opening the doors to a new phase for medicine. A model that not only reproduces the interactions between the drug and the pathogen, but simulates the entire complex orchestra of activities that are triggered in our body.

After having obtained support from the European Medicines Agency EMA for studies on tuberculosis last January, the Catania researchers are now aiming for the validation of UISS for the study of influenza vaccines. The study focused in particular on the H5N1 virus, known as the avian influenza virus which can also be transmitted to humans and considered potentially very dangerous as it could trigger future pandemics. “H5N1 was chosen with the intention of building a unique influenza vaccine – concluded Pappalardo – and with the aim of identifying an antigenic component common to all seasonal influenza”.

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