Researchers from Cardiff and Swansea Universities are developing a new,'point of care' diagnostic device to detect a type of herpes virus called Human Cytomegalovirus (HCMV). Lead researchers, Dr Vincent Teng and Dr Richard Stanton (pictured) report that HCMV can have serious health consequences for patients with a weak immune systems, and has a “devastating impact” on pregnant women and their babies if infected.
About Human Cytomegalovirus (HCMV) Infection
HCMV is spread through bodily fluids including saliva, blood, breast milk, semen and urine and the majority of adults will be infected by HCMV at some point in their life. Once infected, the virus is carried within the person for life, but as long as people remain healthy, they rarely show any symptoms.
“However, HCMV can result in serious health complications and even death for those with weak immune systems, such as patients with HIV and organ transplant recipients,” said Dr Teng, an Associate Professor and Head of the Nanoelectronics Research Group at Swansea University,
More common than Down's Syndrome
CMV and Pregnancy
Dr Teng goes onto say, “It is a particular problem if caught by a woman during pregnancy, a problem affecting about one to two babies in every 200 in the UK. This makes it more common than Down’s Syndrome. HCMV can cause permanent disabilities such as mental retardation, blindness, deafness, or even fatality, to infected babies. Many infections are not diagnosed at birth because they do not show symptoms, however they can develop hearing or vision loss, or developmental problems, months or years later."
Therefore, early detection of HCMV is critical to allow intervention as soon as possible, in order to minimise the long-term impact of these problems.
Developing a new CMV Test for Screening Babies
The R&D explores a way to produce a new, non-invasive, low-cost, easy to use point of care diagnostic device, which can directly detect HCMV either in urine or saliva. Using new technology the method will then facilitate large-scale screening programs and it would become possible to screen all newborn babies for the virus, allowing targeted treatment even before symptoms are seen.
The novel approach involves a printing technique, which offers low-cost high-volume production of the technology, to ensure commercial viability of the invention. This is in collaboration with co-investigator Dr Davide Deganello, from the Welsh Centre for Printing and Coating (WCPC) at Swansea University.
Dr Richard Stanton said: “Up to 1,000 babies are born every year in the UK with permanent disabilities as a result of HCMV infection. This project is a fantastic opportunity to combine expertise in virus infection at Cardiff University, viral diagnosis at the Wales Specialist Virology Centre, nanotechnology at Swansea University and printing at the WCPC to make a real difference to their quality of life.”
Welcoming the news of the grant award, Caroline Star, Chair of CMV Action, said: “We are very excited on this innovative project. An early diagnosis of congenital HCMV is crucial to ensure that families can get the treatment and monitoring their babies need. Sadly this often does not happen.