(ATHENS, Ohio — Jan. 6, 2015) The National Institutes of Health has
awarded $445,500 to Bonita Biegalke, Ph.D., associate professor of
virology with the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic
Medicine, to study a virus considered to be the main viral cause of
mental retardation in infants.
Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is
present in 80 percent of the population but is usually dormant in
healthy individuals. However, HCMV can be deadly for patients with
HIV, organ transplant recipients and those who have weakened immune
systems. It can also be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus,
causing deafness and intellectual impairments in infants. Currently,
there is no cure for HCMV. The Institute of Medicine, an independent
agency of the National Academy of Science, has ranked the
development of a HCMV vaccine as a high priority.
Biegalke and her team are closely examining a protein, UL34,
which plays a key role in the replication of the virus. A better
understanding of how to control and regulate the protein may help
scientists build a more effective and safer arsenal of antiviral
compounds, which could be used to treat HCMV infections, limiting
the associated diseases and birth defects.
“We’re excited to have this opportunity to significantly advance
research in the field,” said Biegalke, who has been researching HCMV
since 1991. Biegalke’s lab identified UL34 as an essential player in
HCMV about 10 years ago, putting her team at the forefront of HCMV
The three-year grant from the National Institute of Allergy and
Infectious Diseases will help Biegalke’s team learn more about the
unique characteristics and conditions that make the virus go dormant
or replicate and cause harm.
HCMV is related to a group of viruses that includes herpes
simplex virus and the viruses that cause chickenpox and
mononucleosis. It is spread through contact with body fluids or
during pregnancy from a mother to her unborn infant and is the most
common intrauterine viral infection in the U.S. According to the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HCMV causes more
long-term problems and childhood deaths than Down syndrome, fetal
alcohol syndrome and neural tube defects. It leads to hearing loss
or developmental disabilities in about 20 percent of children born
with the infection.
“At the Heritage College, we are tackling major public health
problems in our classrooms and also in our laboratories. Researchers
like Dr. Biegalke are helping improve health and quality of life for
thousands of people,” said Heritage College Executive Dean Kenneth
H. Johnson, D.O.
The Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine is a
leader in training dedicated primary care physicians who are
prepared to address the most pervasive medical needs in the state
and the nation. Approximately 50 percent of Heritage College alumni
practice in primary care and nearly 60 percent practice in Ohio.
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