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Honoring Accomplishments
CHORI Researcher Receives National Institutes of Health Career Award

May 1, 2013 – CHORI would like to offer its sincere congratulations to CHORI Associate Scientist Laura Hertel, PhD, on receiving her first National Institutes of Health (NIH) Research Project Grant (R01) from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). The five-year grant, entitled “Mechanisms Mediating HCMV Genome Maintenance During Latency,” focuses on discovering how human cytomegalovirus (CMV) maintains latency, i.e. the ability to remain dormant in the body’s cells, only to become active again at a later time.

“The current climate for NIH research grants is extremely competitive, and landing a first award is even more difficult” says CHORI Executive Director Alexander Lucas, PhD. “This is a significant accomplishment, and we are very proud of Dr. Hertel for the creativity, perseverance and excellence in research that this kind of achievement requires.”

“This is a significant accomplishment, and we are very proud of Dr. Hertel for the creativity, perseverance and excellence in research that this kind of achievement requires.”

CMV is a ubiquitous herpesvirus that can cause severe multi-organ disease in immunocompromised individuals, in particular, in transplant recipients, fetuses and newborns. While there are some effective antiviral therapies to treat CMV infections already, they have significant toxic side effects and only target actively replicating virus.

"These drugs keep you alive, but they are also very toxic to the kidney and bone marrow. That isn't the greatest thing for patients who are already suffering from the effects of CMV infection such as transplant recipients or newborns," explains Dr. Hertel. "There have been some improvements to these drugs more recently, but none is yet targeting this virus while latent."

This means that while the drugs can be used in emergency situations, or situations in which active CMV would endanger a patient, there are still no antiviral therapies or vaccines that will eradicate the virus entirely.

“Despite 60 years of research, we know really very little about the strategy this virus uses to persist in its host,” says Dr. Hertel.
"We donít have the answers to even the most common questions, such as how does it go from replication to latency, what does it do when it is latent, and what triggers reactivation from latency into active replication?"

CMV Latency has been difficult to study in particular because CMV is a strictly human pathogen, so mouse models can’t provide an accurate picture of what goes on in a human host. Instead, researchers are limited to using cells derived from human donors, each with their own quirks and differences.

As Dr. Hertel explains, “Like human beings, cells derived from different donors are not exactly identical. It’s not like using an established cell line that allows you to do an experiment today, and (hopefully) duplicate the results in a replica experiment tomorrow. Cells from donor A won’t always yield the same results as cells from donor B.”

As a result, very few researchers are working on CMV latency, and the need for antiviral therapies and vaccines persists. Dr. Hertel hopes that the research supported by this NIH Research grant will not only shed some urgently needed light on a crucial aspect of CMV latency, but will also provide the key to developing novel therapies with the potential to eradicate CMV from the human population.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013 8:08 AM

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