Over the past year Ms. Bre Eder, an undergraduate student in the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, has been working with Dr. Felicia Goodrum, an associate professor of immunobiology, to raise awareness of the risks involved with being a carrier of the cytomegalovirus virus.
CMV infects most people early in life, but in healthy individuals causes no symptoms and is controlled by their immune system. However, in those with compromised immune systems, or when passed from a mother to an unborn child, the virus can have devastating consequences.
To raise awareness of the risks involved with being a carrier of the CMV virus, as well as tips to prevent passing it on, Dr. Goodrum and Ms. Bre Eder, a UA undergraduate student in the College of Public Health, have developed a unique cross-disciplinary collaboration. Over the course of the last year, the duo has worked together to create educational materials targeting the lay public as well as the medical community. The materials will also be used to educate at risk groups.
CMV poses a substantial risk to a developing fetus. More babies are born infected with CMV than those born with Down syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome, neural tube defects, or Toxoplasma gondii. One in five children born with CMV will suffer permanent disability — including hearing loss, cognitive deficits, cerebral palsy, and other defects. Because of this, the Institute of Medicine has ranked the development of a CMV vaccine as of the highest priority due to the number of lives it would save, and disabilities it would prevent. Despite this, very few women are even aware of CMV.
Ms. Eder herself was unfamiliar with the virus and its potential impact, until she attended a public open house for the department of immunobiology held at BIO5. After touring Dr. Goodrum’s lab, Ms. Eder became excited about the research taking place and expressed interest in contributing. Soon after, Ms. Eder began her senior internship in the Goodrum lab, learning about basic research studying a human virus and taking on the challenge of increasing public awareness of the congenital CMV infection.
Their unique collaboration has allowed for an undergraduate student to gain hands-on experience working with a world-class researcher on a grand health challenge — a unique opportunity that has proven valuable for all parties.
“Exploring CMV under Dr. Goodrum has been one of the most beneficial and humbling experiences of my college career,” Ms. Eder said. “ Aside from having the chance to meet such a passionate and personable group of scientists and experience scientific research firsthand, I’ve been able to interact with families of children born with CMV, policymakers, and non-profit organizations to help increase knowledge of this preventable virus.”