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Protecting vulnerable individuals from cytomegalovirus: a new approach

12 June 2024

Dr Matthew Reeves from University College London has received a Paediatric Award Research Project Grant of £210,000 to develop a safe and effective vaccine against cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection in at-risk groups including kidney transplant patients and babies.  

The problem 

CMV is a common virus which can usually be controlled by the immune system. Over half of the world's population are currently infected with CMV for life.

Transplant patients are more vulnerable to CMV infection because the medications used to protect their new kidney also impact how well their immune system can fight infection. For these individuals, CMV infection can cause serious problems potentially leading to severe illness and an increased chance of kidney rejection.

CMV can also be passed on during pregnancy, so is potentially problematic for unborn babies, since they do not have a working immune system yet, so rely on their mother for protection. Therefore, an effective and safe vaccine is needed to protect these vulnerable groups.  

Previous trials of CMV vaccines involving kidney transplant patients, have shown that around half of patients can be protected through vaccination using one single protein that fights infection, called an antibody. 

Group of people at a restaurant table
Dr Matthew Reeves and his team

The solution 

In this study, Matthew and his team are, ultimately, aiming to make a safe and effective vaccine that provides a good level of protection. Using laboratory techniques, they will look at the immune response from vaccinated transplant patients, to identify the specific parts that will be critical for an effective vaccine for patients with a compromised immune system.  

What this might mean for kidney patients 

This work may lead to an effective vaccine for CMV reducing the risks associated with this infection in kidney transplant patients and babies.  

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