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From Phage Hunters at BYU to CMV Research at Penn State

"I really want to be the one who develops the cures rather than the one administering them." Michelle Nishiguchi (MMBIO)

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Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a common virus that can infect almost anyone. Once infected, many people don’t even know they have the virus because of its dormant nature, but the body retains it for life. Most people infected with CMV don’t need to worry; however, for pregnant women or those with a weakened immune system, the active CMV virus is cause for concern.

This past summer, Michelle Nishiguchi, a senior studying microbiology, traveled to Hershey, Pennsylvania to research CMV at Penn State College of Medicine.

CMV is of greater concern to pregnant women as it can transfer to the placenta and cause birth defects, hearing loss, vision problems, abnormal smallness of head, and intellectual deficiencies in infants. There are no effective vaccines or treatments available to treat CMV as there is little known about it due to its latency in the body. Nishiguchi and her team conducted research to learn as much as they could about the virus itself, specifically focusing on categorizing and learning more about the protein UL88. The lab hopes to use this research to inform others of the possibility to develop treatments and therapies for CMV.

“The end goal is understanding more about the virus so that we can form a base for other researchers . . . so they can continue to help people through research,” Nishiguchi said.

Nishiguchi knew she wanted to study and research viruses after taking the Phage Hunters classes (MMBIO 194 and 195) as a sophomore. The course allows undergraduate students to play a role in current research projects, discovering previously unknown viruses that infect bacteria; annotating, analyzing, and experimenting on phage genomes, and presenting their research to the American Society for Microbiology.

“The research can help people,” Nishiguchi said of the Phage Hunters courses. “I felt like I was able to help further the scientific community by being in the class . . . even though I was just a sophomore in college.”

Nishiguchi explained that Phage Hunters and her summer internship experience set the stage for her studies and her future career: “I really want to be the one who develops the cures rather than the one administering them. When I found that I could help people in a different way, I loved that.”