Study provides new vaccine hope

Tags: pregnancy

Scientists have discovered how a virus that can cause birth defects 'hides' from the immune system.

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) can cause hearing loss or even brain damage, with estimates suggesting that one in every 750 child with CMV is born with or develops birth defects of this nature.

There is some cheer to be had, however, as scientists from Wales and America have discovered how CMV remains hidden from the immune system and this revelation could help to create a vaccine to eradicate the virus.

Dr Chris Benedict, from the La Jolla Institute in California, revealed that a CMV-specific gene called UL141 prevents key immune pathways from killing cells that are infected with CMV.

By uncovering the way the virus prevents the body's immune system from destroying it, researchers might now be able to devise an effective vaccine that targets this key defence mechanism.

Professor Gavin Wilkinson, from the Cardiff University School of Medicine, went on to reveal CMV is more common that other congenital problems such as Down's syndrome or fetal alcohol syndrome, but despite this there is not a lot of public awareness about the virus.

CMV is impossible to get rid of once it has been contracted and detection can be difficult because carriers often do not show any symptoms.

The study was published in an online edition of the Cell, Host & Microbe  journal.

Copyright Press Association 2013

Ask the expert

Got a question?
Our team of medical experts are ready to help.