• Project status: Active
Newborn baby in the hospital

Developing a fast and accurate bedside test to detect congenital Cytomegolovirus (cCMV) cost effectively in the first weeks of life.


What is cCMV?

Cytomegolovirus (CMV) is a common virus in the herpes virus family. Around half of people have been infected with CMV by young adulthood, and up to 85% by 40 years of age. CMV may stay dormant (inactive) in a person’s system for years, and ‘re-activate’ from time to time, but the person often remains well and knows nothing about it. Most people have no symptoms. For pregnant women who become infected with CMV for the first time, or if CMV re-activates during the pregnancy, there is a small risk that their baby will also be infected by CMV. This is called congenital CMV (cCMV). Most babies with cCMV remain well. However, some babies may develop deafness, vision problems and/or neurodevelopmental disability (such as cerebral palsy, learning and behavioural problems). We now know that cCMV may be treatable in some cases if detected in the first month of life. For more information visit the NSW Health website - Cytomegalovirus (CMV) and pregnancy fact sheet

Overview of Screen cCMV project

Currently in Australia, there is no routine screening for cCMV at birth. This means cCMV often remains undetected, or is diagnosed too late for potential treatment. 

Our group previously tested a targeted screening approach to detect cCMV in newborns who received a ‘refer’ result on their final newborn hearing screen, view the HearS-cCMV project for more information. This method of screening was feasible, acceptable and cost-neutral/saving. However, it only detected cCMV in those identified with potential hearing loss, and the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test for cCMV was expensive and time-consuming to administer. 

If a fast, cheap and accurate screening test were available, this would revolutionise how cCMV is detected, make potential treatment more accessible and pave the way to prevent deafness and cerebral palsy due to cCMV.

The Screen cCMV team is collaborating with the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI) to test and validate a new, cheaper technology called CRISPR to test for cCMV. The CRISPR cCMV test works with saliva samples and may be available as a rapid bedside test.

In the first sub-study, GenV cCMV, the CRISPR cCMV technology will be tested through GenV (Generation Victoria), a whole-of-state birth cohort open to all babies and their parents over two years from October 2021. We will use a small portion of the saliva collected from babies who are part of GenV to test for cCMV. We will find out how common cCMV is. We may also be able to use information from GenV collected over time to find ways in the future to identify which babies with cCMV may require treatment or close monitoring.

In the second sub-study, HearS-cCMV 2, we will work with the Victorian Infant Hearing Screening Program (VIHSP), once the CRISPR cCMV test is validated, to test its use as part of normal clinical care at Victoria’s four largest maternity hospitals. 

In the third sub-study, cost-benefit of cCMV screening, we will work with the University of Melbourne to determine the costs of targeted and universal cCMV screening. This will help guide the best method for cCMV screening in Australian newborns.

The Screen cCMV project is funded by a 5-year NHMRC Clinical Trial and Cohort Studies Grant (2006491).