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U-developed vaccine protects against virus that causes mental retardation

Mark Schleiss, M.D.

A vaccine developed by University researchers and tested in animals offers promise for preventing a common cause of mental retardation in humans. The experimental vaccine protected the offspring of guinea pigs infected with cytomegalovirus (CMV), and the researchers hope to conduct clinical trials next year to test the vaccine in people.

CMV is the second-leading cause of mental retardation after Down syndrome. Transmitted from mother to fetus, the virus also is a leading cause of deafness in children and can play a role in cerebral palsy, seizure disorders, and other neurological problems. Up to 40,000 babies each year are born with CMV, and there is no treatment or vaccine licensed for its prevention.

Mark Schleiss, M.D., American Legion Endowed Professor of Pediatrics and director, Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, led the study, which appeared in the March 15, 2007, issue of the Journal of Infectious Disease. Schleiss has worked on finding a vaccine for CMV for the past 15 years.

“Most adults will be infected with CMV sometime in their lifetime, and most do not even realize they have the virus,” Schleiss says. “Finding an effective vaccine for women before they become pregnant could go a long way in preventing often devastating long-term disabilities that result from CMV infection.”

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