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UMass Chan and Moderna to study cytomegalovirus transmission in young children

Laura Gibson to lead research on the most common infectious cause of birth defects

Researchers at UMass Chan Medical School will collaborate with Moderna, Inc. on a comprehensive study of cytomegalovirus (CMV) transmission in group childcare, education and household settings.

Laura Gibson, MD'94

The study, called CMV Transmission and Immune Tracking (CMV TransmIT), will examine how CMV spreads among children and between household members, with an aim to characterize immune responses to CMV infection over time. Findings from the study will inform the design of CMV prevention strategies, including awareness campaigns for CMV, to reduce its spread in similar group settings.

The study will be led by Laura Gibson, MD'94, associate professor of medicine. Dr. Gibson has extensive expertise in congenital CMV infection, including studies of T cell responses to CMV in children.

“Human cytomegalovirus is the most common infection acquired before birth, affecting approximately one of every 200 live-born infants every year,” said Gibson. “Current strategies for effective prevention or treatment of CMV are extremely limited. We hope that this study will generate new evidence to help us understand how the immune systems of young children and adults control and reduce the spread of CMV, which could guide the design of a vaccine to generate those effective immune responses.”

CMV is the most common infectious cause of birth defects. The virus can spread from pregnant women to their unborn children, a condition known as congenital CMV infection (cCMV). Infants with cCMV at birth are at risk for abnormal neurodevelopment, including hearing loss and microcephaly. Overall, nearly 20 percent of infants with cCMV have long term effects from the virus.

More than half of people in the U.S. will be infected with CMV by the age of 40. The vast majority of adults experience very mild or no symptoms with their initial (primary) CMV infection. Young children with CMV infection can shed the virus in their saliva or urine over months to years, making transmission of the virus very easy in group daycare, early education or household settings where playing, sharing toys, eating and diaper changes are daily opportunities for infection. Studying the patterns of transmission and immune responses that control spread in these settings could support development of a CMV vaccine intended to prevent CMV infection.

“CMV is a complex virus and preventing the range of complications from congenital CMV infection is a significant unmet medical need,” said Lori Panther, MD, MPH, vice president of clinical development, infectious disease at Moderna. “There is currently no approved vaccine against CMV infection, which impacts the lives of so many. As we work to advance the science of CMV prevention, we are encouraged that Dr. Gibson’s study will contribute to our understanding of CMV transmission dynamics and the immune response to CMV infection in this population. We are hopeful that Moderna will be able to look to these results to inform the development of a safe and effective vaccine against CMV infection.”

“We are working to build a network of public and private licensed daycare centers in Cambridge and Worcester to identify CMV-positive children who are transmitting the virus and CMV-negative children who are at risk for acquiring the infection,” added Gibson. “Worcester and Cambridge were identified as communities for the study due to the locations of UMass Chan and Moderna, respectively, as well as the diverse populations within these cities.”

Enrollment in the study is likely to begin in fall 2022. For more information about CMV, visit or

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