Header image: screenshot from a video published by VU Amsterdam
There are many things that mothers pass down to their babies. These could be unique physical features or perhaps personality traits. For some mothers, it could (without them knowing) be a virus infection that can lead to neurological abnormalities in their child. This condition is caused by cytomegalovirus (CMV), a genus of viruses in the group of herpes viruses.
CMV is a virus that infects people through bodily fluids such as saliva, tears, urine, blood and even breast milk. After an infection, CMV hides in the body. Most people who are infected by CMV donot get sick. However, when a pregnant woman is infected, it is a different story.
In the Netherlands, 850 children are born with ‘congenital CMV infection’ every year. This means that the mothers were infected during pregnancy, causing the virus to spread to their babies, which then ultimately leads tothe babies being born with the infection. While the majority of these children show no symptoms or complaints, in just under a quarter of registered cases, CMV infection results in developmental delay or other neurological problems. Most children suffer from hearing loss.
Despite the gravity of its impact on children, there are no vaccines to protect children against this virus. “Just like HIV, you would want to prevent the infection of the unborn child by reducing and keeping the amount of virus in the mother as low as possible” said our coordinator Dasja Pajkrt in an interview with NRC, a Dutch daily morning newspaper. “A vaccine for all fertile women can protect unborn children against CMV from the early days of pregnancy” she added.
At OrganoVIR Labs, researchers are using organoids to study how CMV is infecting humans. Compared to cancerous cell lines and animal models, human organoids provide a much more accurate translation of what causes virus infection in humans. Thus, the time between research and drug development will be minimized.
For now, several actions can be taken to prevent CMV infection such as washing hands with soap and water. Furthermore, Dasja strongly advised to not kiss a child on the mouth and to avoid sharing pacifiers or cutleries. Dasja believes that when there is enough awareness about the risk of CMV during pregnancy, screening may not even be necessary.
To understand CMV better, click on the button below to read the full article in the NRC.