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Washington University Receives $3.3M from NIH to Study Virome of Kids

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis plan to use DNA sequencing and genetic analysis to study all of the viruses in the human body in an effort to identify the viruses that make children with weakened immune systems sick, WUSTL said Monday.

The researchers will use a $3.3 million, five-year grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to fund the study, which will take a look at the entire human virome in order to discover novel viruses that may be involved in acute, persistent, or latent infections.

The team will use blood, nasal, and stool samples from 400 children with weakened immunity, including children born with immune disorders, who are having organ or stem cell transplants, and those who are being treated with immune suppression drugs for diseases such as cancer or HIV/AIDS. The samples will be taken both when the children are well and when they have fevers.

Those samples will then be analyzed using tests that amplify DNA to target particular genes or genomic areas and by DNA sequencing to identify the genetic signatures of all of the viruses that are present in each sample. Those viruses found via sequencing will then be compared against a database of all known viruses.

“Comparing what we find in these children with children whose immune systems aren’t suppressed will show us how the immune system usually keeps viruses under control,” Gregory Storch, a professor of pediatrics at WUSTL and principal investigator of the project, said in a statement. “By putting it all together, we want to draw some conclusions about which viruses cause illness.”

Storch previously used funding from the National Institutes of Health for the Human Microbiome Project to look for viruses in young children with high fevers that could not be explained, and found one or more viruses in more than half of the children tested. Because many viral identification tests take as long as 10 days to complete, many of those children were treated with antibiotics that do not address viral infections.

“Ultimately, we’d like to find ways to better recognize which children have viral infections so we can avoid treating them with unnecessary antibiotics. Unnecessary use of these drugs promotes the growth or resistance to important antibiotics,” Storch saids.

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