Purging HCMV from Organ Transplants

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A common virus called human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is usually easily warded off by a healthy immune system. Most individuals are exposed to the virus at an early stage in life and it can hide in hematopoietic (blood-making) stem cells and lie dormant for many years. Exposure to this virus becomes dangerous for those who have a low immunity, for example newborn babies, individuals with AIDS, or patients post organ transplant.

Scientists at Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) have identified the molecular switch that causes the virus to either lie dormant or reactivate its infection. The lab of Didier Trono at EPFL discovered that they can control this switch with a drug called chloroquine, an anti-malaria drug. Cholorquine can activate the dormant virus, thereby exposing the virus, which then in turn can be treated with antiviral medications. A combined drug regime for high risk patients, could become a standard regimen to eradicate HCMV and to purge it from tissue before transplantation.

Currently, this method is being tested in cells to be used for bone marrow transplantation. The next step will be to conduct the first trials in humans.

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