HEALTHY Oxford people are being asked to step forward in the fight against flu.

Experts in the city have developed a vaccine that could protect against all known strains of the illness.

It is hoped that if the vaccine was used widely it could prevent pandemics like the swine flu outbreak and end the need for a yearly jab for at-risk patients.

Experts are now looking for healthy Oxford residents aged 50 and over to test the next stage of the trial.

Scientists have never been able to find a universal flu vaccine because there are so many different strains of the illness and it is constantly changing and mutating.

But the vaccine being trialled by Oxford University’s Jenner Institute, at the Old Road campus in Headington, works by targeting parts of the flu virus which are common to all strains.

Instead of prompting the body to create antibodies, which is what traditional vaccines do, the new vaccine boosts the number of the body’s T-cells, which identify and destroy body cells that have been infected by a virus.

Dr Sarah Gilbert, who led the study, tested the vaccine on 11 healthy volunteers, all aged under 50, who were infected with the H3N2 flu virus and compared them to 11 people who were also infected but did not receive the vaccine.

She monitored the volunteers’ symptoms twice a day, including testing runny noses, coughs and sore throats, and weighed tissues to calculate how much mucus they produced.

She said: “Fewer of the people who were vaccinated got flu than the people who weren’t vaccinated.

“We did get an indication that the vaccine was protecting people, not only from the numbers of people who got flu but also from looking at their T-cells before we gave them flu.

“It is a very important step.”

Dr Gilbert said the institute was looking for 30 Oxford volunteers to take the research to the next level.

She said 10 healthy volunteers aged between 50 and 60, 10 between 60 and 70, and 10 aged 70 and over were needed to test the vaccine on.

‘Healthy’ is classed as not being under the care of a consultant.

Dr Gilbert said: “We need to know if the immune response is different in older people, particularly those over 70. We’ll be testing how their bodies react to the vaccine and will not be giving them the flu virus.“

  • To take part, call the Jenner Institute on 01865 857406.