March 20, 2009

Trial tests vaccine for prenatal infection

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Maximus Payeur is taking part in a study of a vaccine for cytomegalovirus. (photo by Susan Urmy)

Trial tests vaccine for prenatal infection

A Nashville mother who says her unborn child narrowly escaped serious injury from an infection wants people to know about a study at Vanderbilt to develop a vaccine.

Shannon Payeur contracted a cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection while she was pregnant. CMV, which causes few problems for healthy people, can have devastating effects on an unborn baby.

“I think women need to know about this. It is something I never heard about until they saw it in my son's ultrasound,” Payeur said.

In Payeur's case, the prenatal diagnostic screening caught early signs of the CMV infection her baby. That allowed the family to take part in a study of an experimental medicine to take before her son was delivered. Payeur believes the treatment saved him from permanent damage.

“When my son was born, my husband named him Maxiumus because he was so strong. He was a miracle baby,” Payeur said. But she added it would be better to prevent the infection in the first place.

Vanderbilt investigators are currently testing a vaccine against CMV. The project has just been expanded in the hopes of speeding up recruitment.

“The Institute of Medicine is prioritizing the development of this vaccine so that we might prevent serious damages that could result if a mother is infected with CMV during her pregnancy,” said Kathryn Edwards, M.D., professor of Pediatrics at Vanderbilt.

Edwards is the principal investigator for the Nashville site of a multi-center trial to test the safety and effectiveness of a vaccine against CMV. The study has been under way for two years, but recruitment has been slow. The technical details required for participation have been opened up in the hopes of reaching the goal of 350 participants.

Participants are girls, ages 12 through 17, who test negative for CMV exposure. It is the ideal population because about half of women get to childbearing age without contracting CMV. Up to 4 percent of women get their first infection when they are pregnant.

“The CMV infection is not harmful to most people, but if you get your first infection during pregnancy, the effects are much more serious for the baby,” Edwards said. “Women who become infected with CMV for the first time during pregnancy can pass the virus to their unborn babies.”

Payeur is anxious to help by telling her story. Maximus had signs of congenital CMV with eye involvement and a small head. However, at a year old, he is doing well. Of the 30,000 children born with congenital CMV in the United States every year, many are left with serious permanent damage, making it the leading cause of congenital deafness.

For more information about the study, contact the Vanderbilt Vaccine Research Program at 322-8792.