MINNEAPOLIS, MN- September 4, 2019 –  Nationally, about one baby in 100 is born with cytomegalovirus (CMV), the most common infection that causes birth defects and disabilities in babies in the United States. As National Immunization Awareness Month draws to a close, a researcher at the University of Minnesota (U of M) Medical School has been awarded a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant for $3.9 million to conduct research studies of novel vaccine strategies for this infection.

The National Academy of Medicine has identified a CMV vaccine as being the highest public health priority for any new vaccine.

“CMV has coevolved with people since the advent of humankind,” said Mark R. Schleiss, MD, Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases and Immunology, U of M Medical School. “A vaccine for CMV would be a huge public breakthrough and save the healthcare systems billions of dollars every year.”

Most people acquire cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection at some point in their lives. Out of the seven billion people in the world, it’s estimated that more than five billion have been (or will be) infected with this virus. Most people who contract the infection sometime after birth have no symptoms and don’t even know they have it. However, babies that are infected in utero could be born with birth defects and disabilities. The virus is transmitted through bodily fluids, and there is currently no vaccine licensed for human use.

Although educational efforts targeted toward young women of child-bearing age can decrease the likelihood of infection, an effective vaccine would likely be the most effective strategy to prevent pregnant women from acquiring the CMV virus. Prevention of maternal infection would, in turn, decrease the risk of transmission during pregnancy.

Schleiss will use the grant to research vaccine strategies that may be relevant to women. Using a guinea pig model of congenital CMV infection, Schleiss and his team will examine correlates of protection and use recombinant techniques to modify the immune modulation genes encoded by CMV that impair the protective immune response. This research will be working toward a better understanding of how to prevent congenital transmission of infection. 

Key collaborators include Dr. Craig Bierle, Assistant Professor in the U of M Medical School’s Department of Pediatrics, and Drs. Adam Geballe (University of Washington) and Mike McVoy (Medical College of Virginia).

About the University of Minnesota Medical School
The University of Minnesota Medical School is at the forefront of learning and discovery, transforming medical care and educating the next generation of physicians. Our graduates and faculty produce high-impact biomedical research and advance the practice of medicine. Visit med.umn.edu to learn how the University of Minnesota is innovating all aspects of medicine.

Contact: Kelly Glynn
Media Relations Coordinator, University of Minnesota Medical School