Sampling, shipping and serology: a proof of concept study of influenza immunity

What does this project mean for future pandemics?

  • Analysis of blood samples (serosurveillance) after seasonal influenza seasons or pandemics can help researchers to understand how many people were infected, which groups were more susceptible to infection and potentially how uptake of vaccines impacted on disease.
  • This project will use the influenza A(H3N2) outbreak of 2017 as a case study to understand how collecting and analysing blood samples (serosurveillance) from across Australia helps us to understand when, why and where outbreaks might become more serious.
  • The project will develop pathways and processes for 2017 and 2018 blood and serum samples from around Australia to be shipped to a central storage facility for analysis.
  • The processes developed will therefore assist future pandemics by investigating the feasibility of establishing a national blood storage facility (biobank) of samples for infectious diseases surveillance from across all Australian states and territories.
  • In addition to developing template systems and processes for future outbreaks, the analysis of the 2017 influenza samples will shed light on:
    • the susceptibility to infection and immunity of specific groups of people (such pregnant women and people over 65)
    • the differences in the severity of seasonal influenza between the east and west coasts of Australia.
  • The analysis of 2018 samples will give the added benefit of examining the effectiveness of the enhanced influenza vaccines given to people over 65 for the 2018 influenza season.

Project details

The project’s main objective is to define and establish the necessary mechanisms to enable ongoing serological surveys of influenza immunity across Australian jurisdictions.

The project team across Australia will:

  • determine a robust ethics approach
  • use the 2017 influenza season to:
    • identify sera from laboratories across Australia from before (Dec 2016 – Mar 2017) and after (Nov 2017 – Mar 2018) the 2017 influenza season
    • ship the sera to the WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza for storage
    • conduct pilot testing against the main circulating A(H3N2) virus strain of 2017
  • use viral neutralisation assays to examine levels of seroprotection on the east and west coast of Australia prior to the 2017 season
  • develop a framework to identify and prospectively collect sera, including from the elderly, children and pregnant women, and to provide:
    • experience with prospectively collecting specimens
    • specimens with which to investigate seroprotection at the end of the 2018 influenza season among people more than 65 years
    • specimens with which to examine seroprotection among children and pregnant women
  • identify translational research questions that need to be addressed using these samples
  • conduct a small paired sera comparison of sera and plasma for virus neutralisation assays at the WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza to determine whether the procedure can work comparably on plasma samples. If successful, this would allow future valid studies using plasma as well as serum, which is of particular value in:
  • calculate sample size and power to detect informative differences between jurisdictions and subpopulations of interest.

Related Research Areas

  • Laboratory research

Related Cross-cutting Themes

  • Partnerships, collaboration and translation
  • Ethics