Infectious Diseases Research

The Pediatric Infectious Diseases Division at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) is internationally known for its studies of congenital and perinatal viral infections. For 50 years, the Division has defined the natural history, pathogenesis, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of congenital cytomegalovirus (CMV) infections and neonatal herpes simplex virus (HSV) disease. These research programs were begun by Dr. Charles Alford in the 1960s, following his return to UAB from training in the laboratory of Nobel prize winner Dr. Thomas Weller. Applying a critical scientific approach to the emerging field of virology, Dr. Alford established UAB as the national leader in congenital and perinatal viral infections. Work continued by Dr.’s Sergio Stagno and Robert Pass established the extent of disease and sequelae caused by congenital CMV infections. Dr. Bill Britt has explored CMV at a basic level by meticulously examining the role of different viral proteins in the assembly of infectious particles. Dr.’s Suresh Boppana and Karen Fowler have established a scalable molecular diagnostic assay that one day could be used for universal screening for CMV, and also expanded our understanding of the audiologic consequences of congenital infection. Dr. Shannon Ross is investigating the role that viral subpopulations play in congenital CMV disease and its sequelae. Dr.’s Britt, Boppana, and Ross together have applied their individual interests to the question of infection with differing strains of CMV, the consequences of which could impact the feasibility of developing a CMV vaccine in the future. Dr. Masako Shimamura is evaluating the impact of CMV in transplant recipients.

Dr.’s Rich Whitley and Charles Alford established the Collaborative Antiviral Study Group (CASG) in 1972 to study antiviral drugs in these populations.  Dr.’s David Kimberlin and Rich Whitley have continued these trials over the past two decades.  Their work has defined the treatment of neonatal HSV and congenital CMV, including longer-term suppressive therapy with oral acyclovir following neonatal HSV disease and most recently longer-term oral valganciclovir therapy in infants with symptomatic congenital CMV disease.  Promising new antiviral drugs are being evaluated by Dr.’s Mark Prichard and Deb Quenelle in animal models. Dr.’s Mark Prichard, Scott James, and Shannon Ross are utilizing Next Generation Sequencing to identify viral subpopulations with diminished susceptibility to antiviral drugs commonly used to treat these life-threatening diseases.  Finally, in a significant paradigm shift in the study of these neurovirulent viruses, Dr.’s Kevin Cassady and Rich Whitley have genetically engineered HSV to turn its neurotropism into a weapon against brain tumors.

Currently, the Division consists of 10 physician scientists and 6 PhDs.  Collectively, these investigators are responsible for $11.4M in NIH grant and contract support in FY 2013, representing 55% of all research funding for the UAB Department of Pediatrics.  Division faculty currently hold 10 R awards, 8 HHS contracts, 4 U awards, 2 P awards, 1 K award, and 1 SPORE award, and generate over 40 major original publications each year.  The overwhelming majority of these efforts relate to Division research in the human herpesviruses, but important work in HIV and Streptococcus pneumoniae is conducted within the Division as well. This is in addition to a thriving clinical service and molecular diagnostic laboratory based at the third largest Children’s Hospital in the nation.

The legacy of the work initially started in the laboratories of Dr.’s Weller and Alford continue. Advances in technology promise to take what today is cutting edge science and make it the foundation upon which tomorrows advances stand. We welcome your interest in our efforts.