Scientists clone human virus offering hope for new treatment

UK scientists have successfully cloned a human virus responsible for congenital malformations.

Last Updated: Sep 15, 2010, 21:21 PM IST

London: For the first time, British
scientists have successfully cloned a human virus responsible
for congenital malformations, a breakthrough that may lead to
new treatments for several life-threatening diseases.

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

Treatments to contain the virus has not been effective
so far as scientists have been unable to stably replicate HCMV
outside the human body.

"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," said Dr
Richard Stanton from Cardiff University`s School of Medicine,
who led the joint research.

Dr Stanson 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
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."

According to the scientists, cloning the virus will help
virologists develop antivirals and vaccines against the virus
that causes clinical disease.

Following the study, the 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 university said in a
release.

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 further noted that 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."

The study, commissioned by the the Wellcome Trust and
the Medical Research Council, was published in the The Journal
of Clinical Investigation.

PTI