Mark Schleiss presenting at a podium next to a  Minnesota Department of Health sign

CTSI part of team studying follow-up of infants with CMV infections

Michelle Hoedeman

Several CTSI colleagues are conducting a longitudinal congenital cytomegalovirus (cCMV) study on the heels of Minnesota becoming the first U.S. state to screen all newborns for the infection. The team recently received $1.51 million from the CDC to conduct the study. 

CMV is a common virus that affects people of all ages, and is a leading infectious cause of birth defects in the U.S. When the infection is passed to the unborn baby during pregnancy, it can cause hearing loss and other disabilities. 

The CDC-supported study aims to better understand cCMV, its potential risk factors, including maternal risk factors, and its effect on babies. The UMN will be a part of the CDC MAT-LINK: MATernaL and Infant NetworK, with a specific focus on maternal and infant CMV infection.

Advancing child health research

CTSI Child Health Champion Mark Schleiss is a renowned CMV expert who’s part of the longitudinal study. He is also one of the catalysts behind Minnesota’s pioneering universal screening program. 

Dr. Schleiss has been a long-time advocate for cCMV education, awareness, and early detection. His research team, in collaboration with the Minnesota Department of Health, developed enhanced techniques to screen for cCMV, using newborn dried blood spots. This work was instrumental in driving legislation — the “Vivian Act” — a bill passed by the Minnesota legislature in 2021 that enabled commencement of universal cCMV screening in Minnesota.

Earlier this month, Dr. Schleiss was elected to the Lead Team of the Clinical and Translational Science Awards’ (CTSA) Integration Across the Lifespan Enterprise Committee. The national committee ensures translational science is integrated across its multiple phases and disciplines within complex populations’ lifespan. Dr. Schleiss hopes to incorporate cCMV — an infection with important lifetime consequences — into his ongoing work on this committee.

Collaborating for impact

Informatics expert Gretchen Sieger, who directs CTSI’s clinical informatics services, and CTSI senior biostatistician Rick Jansen, PhD, MS, also play key roles in this new longitudinal study. 

Mark Schleiss standing in front of a U.S. flag and a sign that says, "CDC Emergency Operations Center"
Mark Schleiss visits the CDC, which recently awarded him $1.51 million to conduct a longitudinal congenital cytomegalovirus (cCMV) study.

CTSI’s informatics team will focus on improving data interoperability, including through data modernization initiatives related to data standardization and exchange. In partnership with informatics experts from Johns Hopkins University, they will assist with mapping outcomes and key exposures to the Observational Medical Outcomes Partnership (OMOP) common data model. 

Local healthcare providers have been instrumental as well. 

“CTSI helped lay the groundwork for these exciting initiatives through its longstanding commitment to child health and collaborations with local hospitals, clinics, and health organizations,” says Dr. Schleiss, citing a collaborative grant program with Children’s Minnesota and an annual dinner that convenes local child health experts. “Our hope is that children across the country can someday benefit from our efforts to better understand and detect cCMV.”