An estimated one in 150 babies are born with cytomegalovirus (CMV) – and most will not have any symptoms. But around one in 1,000 babies born in the UK each year will have permanent disabilities as a result of this infection. Early detection of CMV and prompt treatment is essential to help improve outcomes. Professor Vincent Teng of Swansea University is aiming to develop a new device that could be used to identify newborn babies who have been infected. The availability of an accurate, easy-to-use screening tool would allow the early detection of CMV in more babies, enabling timely treatment to help limit long-term disability.
How are children’s lives affected now?
CMV is a common virus that is usually harmless. But it can sometimes cause lifelong problems for babies whose mothers pass the virus on to them during pregnancy.
“Around two to three babies born every day in the UK will experience serious health problems as a result of CMV infection," says Professor Teng. “These may include sight or hearing loss or, more rarely, developmental or learning difficulties.”
Most affected babies are born without symptoms and develop problems many months or years later, which is often too late for treatment. Early detection of CMV through a large-scale screening programme would be crucial to identify babies at risk of future problems – enabling prompt access to effective interventions.
“Currently, there is no routine screening for CMV in newborn babies in the UK – partly because of the lack of a suitable diagnostic device,” says Professor Teng. “Sadly, that means many babies are missing the opportunity for early interventions that can help reduce the impact of the infection on their lives.”
How could this research help?
“We’re aiming to develop a low-cost, highly-sensitive device that could be used to screen for CMV in newborn babies,” says Professor Teng.
Existing methods for detecting CMV are unsuitable for large-scale screening as they are costly and time-consuming and can only be performed in a laboratory using specialist equipment. The researchers are planning to create a much simpler test that uses a portable device and can provide rapid results.
“We will initially test our device to find out whether it can accurately detect and measure CMV directly in urine and saliva samples from newborn babies,” says Professor Teng.
The team will then compare the performance of their device against the current gold standard diagnostic test – to demonstrate the feasibility of using it as a screening tool for CMV infection in the future.
|Project Leader||Professor Kar Seng (Vincent) Teng, PhD|
|Location||Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering, Swansea University|
|Project Team||Professor Richard J Stanton, PhD|
|Other Locations||Division of Infection and Immunity, School of Medicine, Cardiff University|
|Grant Code (GN number)||GN2995|