Research Highlight February 09, 2022

Predicting influenza vaccine responses

A candid portrait of Duygu Ucar at JAX GMDuygu Ucar at The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine. Photo credit: Tiffany Laufer

Duygu Ucar of JAX is teaming up with infectious disease, aging experts to lead a study to understand influenza vaccine responsiveness in older adults.


Influenza tends to get pushed out of health headlines by COVID-19, but influenza causes about 36,000 deaths each year in the United States, about 90 percent of which are in patients over age 65. And among older adults, age-related changes in the immune system diminish the response to influenza vaccines.

“There is an urgent need to understand who does and does not respond to influenza vaccines and to assess the efficacy of new generation vaccines (adjuvanted or mRNA) in this high-risk population,” says Jackson Laboratory Associate Professor and UConn School of Medicine Genomics and Genome Medicine faculty member Duygu Ucar, Ph.D.Develops computational models using genome datasets to study gene regulation and identify hypotheses for genomic medicine.Duygu Ucar . The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has awarded a five-year grant totaling $9,046,988 to Ucar and her collaborators to pinpoint the age-related immune alterations that reduce influenza vaccine effectiveness.

Ucar, an expert in aging and epigenomics, has teamed up with Adolfo Garcia-Sastre, director of the Global Health and Emerging Pathogens Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and an expert in virology and vaccine responses, and gerontology expert George A. Kuchel, director of the UConn Center on Aging. Together, the team will recruit and follow a cohort of 60 older adults, who will receive three different influenza vaccines over three subsequent influenza seasons.

“By performing comprehensive profiling of their blood antibodies and immune cells over time using advanced genomic and functional assays,“ Ucar says, “we will be able to associate specific age-related immune alterations with vaccine responder or non-responder status, thus allowing us to pinpoint biological pathways that can be targeted to enhance vaccine efficacy and that can also help us to progress towards precision vaccinology and eventually developing more effective influenza vaccines.”


A deep longitudinal analysis of next generation influenza vaccines in older adults, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Grant Number 1U01AI165452-01