While most adults and older children are able to fight a common herpes virus called cytomegalovirus (CMV), the virus can have serious consequences for infants who contract it in utero, when the immune system isn’t fully developed.
CMV causes more disabilities than any other infectious disease in children and is the number one cause of deafness in young people.
That’s why Mark Schleiss, M.D., part of the U’s pediatrics faculty, and Sebahattin Cureoglu, M.D., part of the otolaryngology faculty, have made it their mission to stop the damage caused by CMV.
With Masonic support, Schleiss and Cureoglu are working to determine how CMV leads to hearing loss. Their research, currently underway in a guinea pig model of CMV, tracks how the virus moves through various parts of the body, including the cochlea, and applies the same test that is used in babies to monitor hearing loss. Schleiss and Cureoglu are also learning more about CMV’s impact on hearing loss by studying temporal bone samples donated over the years by University of Minnesota patients.
The next big step for Schleiss and Cureoglu will be to test vaccines that show the most promise in preventing the transmission of CMV from mother to baby in utero. If successful, this work could be a game-changer for thousands of babies.
“What makes this project so unique is the incredibly common aspect of CMV. The virus infects or injures up to 40,000 babies per year in the U.S. and an estimated 7,000 per year in Minnesota. What Minnesota Masonic Charities has meant for the health of children is incalculable. It is a privilege and an honor to receive their support!”
Advocating for better policies and practices
Schleiss and Cureoglu are also taking their fight against CMV into the clinical and legislative arenas.
One of their goals is to make CMV screening standard for babies in Minnesota who fail their newborn hearing screen. They recently helped implement this policy at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital and continue to advocate for it across the state.
They are also working to promote greater awareness of CMV among health practitioners. They are advocating for a bill called Vivian’s Act, which would instruct the Minnesota Department of Health to promote education for women and care providers about the risk of CMV to pregnant women. Additionally, they will be holding a conference in June 2018 for health professionals and others who are interested in increasing awareness and treatment of CMV.