CARDIFF U. (UK)—Scientists have successfully cloned a human virus offering new hope for the treatment of potentially life-threatening diseases.

Human cytomegalovirus (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.

The development of new treatments has been hampered as scientists have been unable to stably replicate HCMV outside the human body.

“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,” says Richard Stanton from Cardiff University‘s School of Medicine who led the joint research.

“Cloning a copy of the virus from a strain isolated by Cardiff Public Health Laboratories has enabled us to identify the genes causing the instability of the virus 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.”

The study appears in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

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

The clone has already been distributed to research laboratories worldwide, and is being tested by the World Health Organization (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.

“HCMV has been designated as a highest priority vaccine target by the US Institute of Medicine,” adds Stanton.

“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 a joint collaboration between Cardiff University’s Infection, Immunity, and Inflammation Interdisciplinary Research Group and the Centre for Virus Research at the University of Glasgow. Funding was provided by the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council.

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