Little Known But Widespread Virus – Leading Infectious Cause of Birth Defects in the US

Dr. Lori Panther, MD, MPH, Vice President of Clinical Development, Infectious Diseases at Moderna discusses a virus that is the leading infectious cause of birth defects in the US called CMV or cytomegalovirus which has no vaccine. She talks about the current research on a CMV vaccine. She is joined by Shayne Gaffney, parent of a child with CMV who is bringing awareness to the illness and his goal is to push for universal CMV screening…and educate other parents about the virus. 

Lori Panther, MD, MPH, is Vice President of Clinical Development, Infectious Diseases at Moderna and has more than 20 years of experience in the field. In her current role, Dr. Panther is responsible for overseeing the clinical development of Moderna’s CMV vaccine candidate, among other areas of research.

Prior to Moderna, Dr. Panther worked as the Associate Director for Clinical Research at The Fenway Institute in Boston where she oversaw multiple NIH network-funded and industry-sponsored clinical trials evaluating the safety, acceptability and efficacy of various biomedical interventions for the prevention of sexually transmitted infections.

Dr. Panther received her Doctorate of Medicine degree from the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, her Master of Public Health degree from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and her Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Iowa.

Shayne Gaffney is a parent advocate for cytomegalovirus, or CMV, a viral infection that can be harmful to newborn babies. He and his wife, Megan Gaffney, have two children, Finn and Grace. They had never heard of CMV until their second child, Grace, was born in 2019 severely affected by congenital CMV (cCMV), which can be passed from a mother to baby in the womb, and they had to quickly educate themselves about it – learning it’s the leading infectious cause of birth defects in the United States. CMV infections in infants can lead to hearing loss, vision impairment, learning disability, and decreased muscle strength and coordination. Shayne’s daughter was born with hearing and vision issues, Cerebral Palsy and developmental delays. At two years old, Grace is non-verbal and uses a wheelchair, and while she was born fully deaf, now uses cochlear implants to help with hearing.

As a parent advocate for CMV, Shayne leads the Massachusetts cCMV Coalition, an organization united with the common goal of lessening the impact of congenital CMV in the state of Massachusetts through education, prevention, screening and care. Through the Massachusetts cCMV Coalition, Shayne and his wife have been working alongside 10 other families impacted by cCMV to file a bill in the state which is currently under review and would mandate universal newborn screening for cCMV, prenatal education about cCMV and data reporting to the state on positive cCMV cases to further educate the public about the virus. If passed, Massachusetts would make history as the first state in the U.S. to require universal screening.

Outside of his work with the Massachusetts cCMV Coalition, Shayne is a cycling coach running his own business as founder of GC Coaching. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Health Science in Professional Development and Advanced Patient Care and is a licensed physical therapy assistant in Massachusetts. Shayne and his family reside in New Hampshire.

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