EAST LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – Each year millions of Americans become sick with the flu, hundreds of thousands are hospitalized and tens of thousands die.

Getting the flu shot can reduce the chances of infection, but the vaccine is only effective 40% to 60% of the time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Michigan State University researchers are working to make future flu vaccines work better or even help design a universal vaccine.

Scientists used 18 previously published studies to get a better understanding of how cells react to the flu patients compared to vaccine recipients. The paper was published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology.

“By combining multiple studies, we’re increasing our power and ability to detect gene expression differences between the variables that we’re interested in,” said George Mias, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and chief of the Systems Biology Division at the Institute for Quantitative Health Science and Engineering at MSU.

The researchers found 978 genes with changed expression for flu infection and flu vaccination. Roughly a third of those genes, 334, overlapped while about two-thirds, 644, were unique to either flu infection or flu vaccination.

“Understanding these differences could help us identify new targets for building better vaccines as well as help us figure out better ways to treat the disease,” said Mias. “We especially need to find something that works across ages better.”

Currently, the CDC recommends a high-dose vaccine for people over the age of 65 to create the necessary antibodies in the immune system to protect them from flu viruses.