Unique Professor-Student Collaboration Brings Public Awareness to Often Silent, Yet Potentially Devastating Virus

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 1 in every 150 children is born with congenital CMV. The U.S. Senate has designated the month of June as "National Cytomegalovirus Awareness Month."

Felicia Goodrum, PhD, University of Arizona associate professor of  immunobiology and member of the BIO5 Institute, has spent the last 20 years researching viruses. Most of that time has been devoted specifically to the cytomegalovirus (CMV), one of eight human herpes viruses, infecting 60-99 percent of adults worldwide.

CMV infects most people early in life, but in healthy individuals causes no symptoms and is controlled by their immune system. However, in those with compromised immune systems, or when passed from a mother to an unborn child, the virus can have devastating consequences.

Dr. Felicia Goodrum and Bre EderTo raise awareness of the risks involved with being a carrier of the CMV virus, as well as tips to prevent passing it on, Dr. Goodrum and Bre Eder, a UA undergraduate student in the UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, have developed a unique cross-disciplinary collaboration.

During the past year, the duo has worked together to create educational materials targeting the public as well as health providers. The materials also will be used to educate at-risk groups.

CMV poses a substantial risk to a developing fetus. More babies are born infected with CMV than those born with Down syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome, neural tube defects or Toxoplasma gondii. One in five children born with CMV will suffer permanent disability—including hearing loss, cognitive deficits, cerebral palsy and other defects. Because of this, the Institute of Medicine has ranked the development of a CMV vaccine as a top priority due to the number of lives it would save and disabilities it would prevent. Despite this, very few women are even aware of CMV.

For example, Eder was unfamiliar with the virus and its potential impact until she attended a public open house for the UA Department of Immunobiology, held at BIO5. After touring Dr. Goodrum’s lab, Eder became excited about the research taking place and expressed interest in contributing. Soon after, Eder began her senior internship in the Goodrum lab, learning about basic research, studying a human virus and taking on the challenge to increase public awareness of the congenital CMV infection.

Their unique collaboration has allowed for an undergraduate student to gain hands-on experience working with a world-class researcher on a grand health challenge — a unique opportunity that has proven valuable for all parties.

“Exploring CMV under Dr. Goodrum has been one of the most beneficial and humbling experiences of my college career,” Eder said. “Aside from having the chance to meet such a passionate and personable group of scientists and experience scientific research firsthand, I’ve been able to interact with families of children born with CMV, policymakers and non-profit organizations to help increase knowledge of this preventable virus.”

From Dr. Goodrum’s perspective, employing a public health-focused student in her lab has brought many benefits.

“A new and powerful way to more closely bind biomedical research to the people it impacts is for researchers to partner with public health experts who can assist in the dissemination of knowledge and increase awareness of public health threats, as well as the critical role that research plays in public health,” said Dr. Goodrum. “Education will go a long way in preventing congenital infections with devastating effects, and I’m excited that my collaboration with Bre allowed us to further that goal.”

Dr. Goodrum and Eder were able to design and exhibit posters, flyers, and brochures, as well as to present this year at Science City at the Tucson Festival of Books and at the 10th Annual Frontiers in Immunobiology/Immunopathogenesis symposium poster session. Additionally, they produced a public service announcement focused on knowledge and prevention tips.

Dr. Goodrum said the interdisciplinary collaboration encouraged by the UA, and specifically the BIO5 Institute, facilitated their work together.

“Science is very much a social study and when you are able to incorporate the perspective of a diverse set of disciplines into your research, you are seeding an environment conducive for the pursuit of education and knowledge, which is what the Goodrum lab and BIO5 are all about.”

View the Cytomegalovirus Public Service Announcement:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gjmTJFub0Rg&feature=youtu.be

Download the CMV Brochure here.

About CMV

CMV is the most common congenital (meaning present at birth) infection in the United States and is the most common viral cause of birth defects and developmental disabilities, including deafness, blindness, cerebral palsy, mental and physical disabilities, seizures and death. However, with education and awareness, CMV is preventable. Please click here for more information.

About BIO5

The BIO5 Institute at the University of Arizona mobilizes top researchers in agriculture, engineering, medicine, pharmacy and science to find creative solutions to humanity’s most pressing health and environmental challenges. Since 2001, this interdisciplinary approach has been an international model of how to conduct collaborative research, and has resulted in improved food crops, innovative diagnostics and devices and promising new therapies. Learn more at BIO5.org.

About the UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health

Established in 2000, the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health at the University of Arizona is the first nationally accredited college of public health in the Southwest. Today, the college remains the only accredited college of public health in the State of Arizona, with campuses in Tucson and Phoenix. The college enrolls more than 1,100 students per year across degree programs at the bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels.  Through research, education and community engagement the college continues to find solutions to public health problems in Arizona, the Southwest and globally.