(ATHENS, Ohio — Jan. 6, 2015) Researchers at the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine have recently received two major grants from the National Institutes of Health --one to study human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) and the other to examine the effects of nerve damage that sometimes occurs during routine dental procedures.
The first three-year, $450,500 grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases will allow Bonita Biegalke, Ph.D. (left), to study human cytomegalovirus (HCMV), which is present in 80 percent of the population but usually dormant in healthy individuals. HCMV can be deadly for patients with HIV, organ transplant recipients and those who have weakened immune systems.
The National Academy of Science has ranked the development of a HCMV vaccine as a high priority. The study by Biegalke’s team will help determine the unique characteristics and conditions that make the virus go dormant or replicate and cause harm. HCMV can also be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus, causing deafness and intellectual impairments in infants. Currently, there is no cure for HCMV.
The second $445,500 study is funded through the National Institute of Dental & Craniofacial Research and will allow Susan Williams, Ph.D., (below) professor of anatomy, and her team to more closely examine the effects of nerve damage that sometimes occurs during routine dental procedures. The lingual nerve, which runs in the floor of the mouth to enter the tongue, can be crushed or severed during dental work, particularly when molars are removed, causing intense pain, burning or numbness.
"Lingual nerve injuries are surprisingly common,” said Williams. “We know the lingual nerve senses pain, touch and temperature, and fibers also travel with it that convey the sense of taste. We don't know exactly how damage to this nerve affects the function of the tongue and its coordination with the jaw, although patients have reported that nerve damage makes it harder for them to eat."
The study led by Williams will use high-resolution 3-D imaging technology of tongue and jaw movements to better understand the influence of lingual nerve injuries on chewing and swallowing. Lingual nerve injuries can be temporary if the nerve is compressed. However, if the nerve is severed during a dental procedure, the damage is often permanent, affecting quality of life. The hope is that this research will help in the development of improved strategies to rehabilitate those with nerve damage.
Biegalke and the team studying the HCMV virus are closely examining a protein, UL34, which plays a key role in the replication of the virus. A better understanding of how to control and regulate the protein may help scientists build a more effective and safer arsenal of antiviral compounds, which could be used to treat HCMV infections, limiting the associated diseases and birth defects.
“We’re excited to have this opportunity to significantly advance research in the field,” said Biegalke, who has been researching HCMV since 1991. Biegalke’s lab identified UL34 as an essential player in HCMV about 10 years ago, putting her team at the forefront of HCMV research.
HCMV is related to a group of viruses that includes herpes simplex virus and the viruses that cause chickenpox and mononucleosis. It is spread through contact with body fluids or during pregnancy from a mother to her unborn infant and is the most common intrauterine viral infection in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HCMV causes more long-term problems and childhood deaths than Down syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome and neural tube defects. It leads to hearing loss or developmental disabilities in about 20 percent of children born with the infection.the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HCMV causes more long-term problems and childhood deaths than Down syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome and neural tube defects. It leads to hearing loss or developmental disabilities in about 20 percent of children born with the infection.
“At the Heritage College, we are tackling major public health problems in our classrooms and also in our laboratories. Researchers like Dr. Biegalke are helping improve health and quality of life for thousands of people,” said Heritage College Executive Dean Kenneth H. Johnson, D.O.