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Working to help transplant patients, Upstate researcher awarded $3.2 million grant to help create treatment to fight HCMV infection

Gary Chan, PhD has been awarded a five-year $3.2 million grant National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases to find a treatment for one of the most dangerous infections for transplant recipients.

Chan, an associate professor of microbiology and immunology at SUNY Upstate Medical University, said his lab is focused on studying host-pathogen interactions involving human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) and understanding how HCMV-mediated alterations to cellular function lead to human disease.

HCMV is endemic and infects the majority of people in the world; up to 80 percent of the population by some reports. Typically, a healthy person isn’t aware of the infection, but HCMV can cause severe and sometimes fatal disease in immunocompromised individuals and newborns. This can be especially dangerous for people needing an organ transplant.

“HCMV is the most common opportunistic viral pathogen in transplant recipients leading to significant disease in these patients,” explains Chan. “Yet, there are very few approved antiviral drugs against HCMV, which have severe side effects.”

HCMV can significantly raise the chance of organ rejection, making its treatment crucial for those needing a life-saving transplant.

Current anti-viral treatments delay replication but don't eliminate the infected cells. Chan is proposing to target heat shock factor (HSF) 1, a protein that is stimulated by HCMV, which could both inhibit the replication of HCMV and eliminate infected cells.

Chan thinks this approach could prove to be the key to a safer and more effective treatment. “Since HSF1 is a cellular protein needed by the virus to replicate, resistance against HSF1 inhibitors is unlikely. Also, because HSF1 is only activated in stressed cells such as virally infected cells, the side effects of HSF1 inhibition are likely to be mild.”

Read more about Chan’s lab and its work studying HCMV here.