Emily Singer

A View from Emily Singer

Fending Off the Flu

If H1N1 vaccine supplies fall short, people may have to turn to supplements, statins, and laser-coupled vaccination.

  • October 28, 2009

A number of common supplements and drugs can boost the immune system’s ability to ward off the flu and reduce symptoms once you have it, said Jeffrey Gelfand, a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital at the CIMIT (Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology) Innovation Congress this morning in Boston. Gelfand suggested that in the absence of adequate supplies of vaccine against the H1N1 flu strain, we’ll need to turn to less conventional measures. Clinical research shows that L-theanine, which is found in tea, and quercetin, a plant polyphenol, can reduce chances of getting an upper respiratory infection, he said. Both are available at stores that sell vitamin supplements.

Statins, the cholesterol-lowering blockbuster drug, can reduce symptoms of the flu, especially in younger people, the group hardest hit by H1N1. The drugs, many of which are available generically, reduce the “cytokine storm”–part of the immune reaction that occurs during sepsis and influenza infection. “I believe this could significantly reduce mortality,” said Gelfand.

Gelfand also said that changing our approach to vaccination could help extend limited vaccine supplies. One method currently under study is delivering vaccines to the skin, rather than to the muscle, as is done with current injections. Directly targeting the skin enhances the response from immune cells in the skin. His team is testing a laser-coupled injection system, in which a precise dose of laser light is used to briefly irritate the skin, attracting the target immune cells even more effectively. Initial studies show that this approach generates the same antibody response with only 20 percent of the amount of vaccine.

Tech Obsessive?
Become an Insider to get the story behind the story — and before anyone else.
Subscribe today

Uh oh–you've read all five of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium

$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Rewriting Life

Reprogramming our bodies to make us healthier.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.

  • Insider Premium {! insider.prices.premium !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Our award winning magazine, unlimited access to our story archive, special discounts to MIT Technology Review Events, and exclusive content.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

    First Look. Exclusive early access to stories.

    Insider Conversations. Join in and ask questions as our editors talk to innovators from around the world.

  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning magazine and daily delivery of The Download, our newsletter of what’s important in technology and innovation.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

You've read of free articles this month.