Flu viruses mutate so quickly that a new ‘flu shot’ needs to be developed every year. However, for one strain of the flu virus, the effectiveness of the vaccine is consistently insufficient. Robert de Vries has been awarded a prestigious ERC Starting Grant of 1.5 million euros to achieve a fundamental breakthrough in the development of vaccines for this life-threatening flu strain.
A century ago, tens of millions of people around the world died as a result of the Spanish Flu epidemic. The epidemic was caused by a strain of the flu virus Influenza A, which originated in waterfowl, but can also mutate into avian flu, swine flu, and even become potentially fatal to humans. “But now, 100 years later, we still don’t know exactly how influenza penetrates our cells. With my ERC Starting Grant, I aim to find an answer to that question, so that we can make more effective vaccines”, says De Vries..
Glycans in America
With his full beard and man-bun, Robert de Vries is easily recognisable in the corridors of the David de Wied building, where he joined the group led by Professors Roland Pieters and Geert-Jan Boons in 2014. He had crossed paths with Boons before in America, where Boons was a Professor at the University of Georgia, and De Vries was working as a postdoc at The Scripps Research Institute. Their collaboration resulted in a publication in Science about the synthesis of glycans; molecules that cover the membranes of our cells. Boons’ lab had produced glycans, and The Scripps Institute studied how certain viruses reacted to them.