An NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center
By Letisia Marquez | October 18, 2017
Flavia Chiuppesi, Ph.D. Flavia Chiuppesi, Ph.D.
It can be a devastating disease in babies and yet it is unfamiliar to many people: congenital cytomegalovirus (CMV). There is currently no vaccine for it.
CMV, which infects children and adults as well (but is particularly dangerous if a mother becomes infected with CMV during pregnancy and transfers it to her fetus), is a leading cause of permanent birth defects worldwide. The virus causes severe developmental abnormalities in more than 5,000 children each year in the United States alone. CMV can cause hearing and vision loss, intellectual disabilities, small head size and frequent seizures in babies and children.
But now a group of researchers in City of Hope’s Department of Experimental Therapeutics and Caltech may be one step closer to developing the first CMV vaccine for commercial use.
The study, published in PLOS ONE, is the first to combine two different approaches in a prime-boost vaccine, which refers to an initial dose that “primes” or stimulates the immune system, and a second one that provides long-term immunity against CMV in animal models.
The vaccines stimulate antibodies against what’s known as the CMV pentamer complex, which consists of five proteins found on the surface of CMV.
Researchers found that a preclinical vaccine developed at City of Hope is significantly more powerful in stimulating antibodies against CMV than other vaccines under investigation.
Also important: The vaccine would only need to be administered twice, which should increase the number of people who take the vaccine, as opposed to having a vaccine that needs to be administered three to four times and would require more appointments with a medical provider.
“These discoveries support City of Hope’s efforts to develop a vaccine for the prevention of congenital cytomegalovirus infection,” said Flavia Chiuppesi, Ph.D., the study’s lead author and a staff scientist with the Department of Experimental Therapeutics within the Beckman Research Institute at City of Hope. “Such a vaccine is so desperately needed worldwide and each study brings us one step closer to bringing a CMV vaccine to a clinical setting.”
Additional City of Hope study authors included senior author Don J. Diamond, Ph.D., the department’s chair and professor, and Felix Wussow, Ph.D., Heidi Contreras, Ph.D., Zhuo Meng, M.D., M.Sc. and Jenny Nguyen, M.Sc.

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