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Professor-Student Collaboration Brings Awareness to Virus

Over the past year Bre Eder, an undergraduate student in the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, has been working with Felicia Goodrum, PhD, an associate professor of immunobiology, to raise awareness of the risks involved with being a carrier of the cytomegalovirus virus.

From left; Dr. Felicia Goodrum and public health student Bre Eder join hands to educate the public about the cytomegalovirus (CMV) virus.

From left; Dr. Felicia Goodrum and public health student Bre Eder join hands to educate the public about the cytomegalovirus (CMV) virus.

By Lisa Romero and Tatiana Tomich, BIO5 Institute

Felicia Goodrum, PhD, University of Arizona associate professor of immunobiology and member of the BIO5 Institute, has spent the last twenty years researching viruses. Most of that time has been devoted specifically to the cytomegalovirus (CMV), one of eight human herpesviruses infecting 60-99 percent of adults worldwide.

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, Goodrum and 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.

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 Goodrum’s lab, Eder became excited about the research taking place and expressed interest in contributing. Soon after, 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,” 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.”

From Goodrum’s perspective, there has been great benefit from employing a public health-focused student in her lab.

“A new and powerful way to more closely bind biomedical research to the people it impacts is for researchers to partner with public health experts who can assist in the dissemination of knowledge, and increase awareness of public health threats, as well as the critical role that research plays in public health,” said Goodrum. “Education will go a long way in preventing congenital infections with devastating effects, and I’m excited that my collaboration with Bre allowed us to further that goal.”

Goodrum and Eder were able to design and exhibit posters, flyers, and presentations this year at Science City at the Tucson Festival of Books, and at the 10th Annual Frontiers in Immunobiology/Immunopathogenesis symposium poster session. Additionally, they produced a public service announcement focused on knowledge and prevention tips.

Goodrum said that the idea of interdisciplinary collaboration encouraged by the UA, and specifically the BIO5 Institute, was really what facilitated her and Eder’s work together.

“Science is very much a social study, and when you are able to incorporate the perspective of a diverse set of disciplines into your research, you are seeding an environment conducive for the pursuit of education and knowledge, which is what the Goodrum lab, and BIO5, is all about.”

The University of Arizona