Flu study, clinical trial underway

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NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) – Winter — it’s the time of year when flu sickens and kills more people.

“How the environment impacts us has not been studied very much,” says immunologist Dr. Akiko Iwasaki at Yale School of Medicine who led a team of researchers to answer this question.

“Why in the winter months, we suffer more from flu disease than in the summer time?” says Dr. Iwasaki.

They learned in animal models — that low humidity — lowered their defenses against the flu.

“When we kept the temperature the same,” says Dr. Iwasaki, ‘And we just change the humidity as the parameter, what we saw was that the lower humidity, the dry air was detrimental to the animals and their ability to fight back against the flu virus.”

So what does this mean for us?

Dr. Iwasaki says, “One thing you can do is to humidify the room and to keep the temperature at a reasonable level. Ideally we want to keep it warm and keep humidity high enough, hopefully at around 40 – 50 percent.”

At the UConn Health Center On Aging — Dr. Jenna Bartley is focused on older adults and the flu — specifically looking into boosting their slower metabolism to decrease complications.

She says, “Can we enhance a response to the flu vaccine to offer them better protection?”

A phase one clinical trial is now underway for healthy men and women — 65 years and older.

“What I’m trying to use,” says Dr. Bartley, “Is kinda teach an old drug a new trick.”

The drug is Metformin — an anti-diabetic medication.

She explains, “In mice, given Metformin, they live longer, and they have a more youthful response as they age too. So what I’m trying to see is in those healthy adults that aren’t diabetic, if Metformin can correct these underlying changes in regular healthy older adults. To allow them to mount a more robust immune response. To give a more youthful response to the vaccine.”

If effective — it could lead to improving an older adult’s vaccine response to other infectious diseases.

Dr. Bartley is looking for older adults – not diabetic or prediabetic, and who do not have liver or kidney disease.

For more information about her study head to starr.uchc.edu/Study/StudyDetails.aspx?ID=1127 or contact Lisa Pesce at 860-679-2305 or email her at kenyon-pesce@uchc.edu.

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