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Cloned virus

13 September 2010

Dr Richard StantonDr Richard Stanton

A leading University scientist has successfully cloned a human virus offering new hope for the development of treatments for life-threatening diseases.

The joint study, published in the on-line edition of The Journal of Clinical Investigation, led by Dr Rich Stanton from the School of Medicine’s Infection, Immunity and Inflammation Interdisciplinary Research Group (i3 – IRG) has created the first complete copy of the human virus - Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV).

HCMV is a major infectious cause of congenital malformations worldwide. The virus is also known to cause life-threatening disease in transplant patients and people with HIV/AIDS.

Dr Richard Stanton, who led the joint research, said: "HCMV has by far the largest genome of all viruses affecting humans - consequently it was technically difficult to clone in an intact form in the laboratory.

"Cloning a copy of the virus from a strain isolated by Cardiff Public Health Laboratories has enabled us to identify genes that caused the virus to be unstable outside the body.

"Following the identification of these genes, we have successfully developed cells in which we can grow virus that corresponds to that which exists in the human body."

Cloning the virus for the first time will help virologists develop antivirals and vaccines against the virus that causes clinical disease.

The new clone has already been distributed to research laboratories worldwide, and is being tested by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as part of a study to develop an international diagnostic standard with which to compare clinical isolates.

The genome sequence of the Cardiff virus has also been designated the international reference for HCMV in the National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) - an international database that provides reference standards for biomedical and genomic information.

Dr Stanton added: "HCMV has been designated as a highest priority vaccine target by the US Institute of Medicine. When developing vaccines, anti-viral agents and improving understanding of disease, it is crucial to work with a virus that accurately represents the virus present in patients.

"For the first time our work has enabled us to create an exact copy of the virus outside of the body offering a vital step forward in the development of new treatments."

The study was funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council, was a joint collaboration between Cardiff University’s Infection, Immunity and Inflammation Interdisciplinary Research Group and Drs Davison and Dargan at the Centre for Virus Research at the University of Glasgow.

The University’s i3-IRG is a large team of nearly 150 researchers from different fields of expertise.

The i3-IRG undertakes basic, translational and clinical research in order to further our understanding of the immune system for better diagnosis and therapy of infection, inflammation, autoimmunity and cancer.

Its research involves collaborations between hospital doctors and laboratory scientists, who share knowledge through regular conferences and workshops.

Most members of the i3-IRG work in different research institutes across the University’s Schools of Medicine, Biosciences, Dentistry and Pharmacy.

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