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Did norovirus just make you sick? U-M researchers are working to understand why

Stool samples now being collected from current and recent sufferers

A microscopic view of norovirus particles. Source: Centers for Disease Control & Prevention

A microscopic view of norovirus particles.
Source: Centers for Disease Control & Prevention

It came on like a thunderbolt, and is still making people sick and miserable across Ann Arbor.

But the norovirus outbreak that put the University of Michigan in the spotlight over the past week may have a silver lining.

Resarchers are working to better understand this virus that sickens tens of millions of Americans each year.

Just last week, a U-M Medical School research team received permission to begin collecting stool samples from people who are experiencing norovirus-like symptoms or just recovered in the past three days.

Even though norovirus is incredibly common, it’s hard to grow in a laboratory setting. So scientists still don’t understand a lot about it.

And that stands in the way of better treatment and prevention. There’s no approved vaccine or antiviral drugs to prevent or treat it. Only more research can defeat it.

A computer model of the form of norovirus that infects mice.

A computer model of the form of norovirus that infects mice.

U-M microbiologist Christiane Wobus, Ph.D., has worked for more than a decade to study the form of the virus that infects mice, as a model for the human infection.

Now, she’s ready to study the human form – and the stool sample collection from current and recent victims is the first step.

For more information about the study (HUM# 112726), see this flyer and this detailed information.

Wobus and her colleagues will process the samples under carefully controlled conditions, and focus on the samples that are shown to have norovirus in them.

They’ll compare the virus to the mouse version, and work to understand exactly how it gets into cells and causes the symptoms so many people are all too familiar with.

Christiane Wobus in her lab, holding a large-scale model of a norovirus particle

Christiane Wobus in her lab, holding a large-scale model of a norovirus particle

It may take years for researchers to learn enough about norovirus for new treatments or even a vaccine to become available. But as anyone who’s ever suffered through a bout with the virus will agree, the faster that day comes, the better.

Take the next step:

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Since graduating its first class of six students in 1851, the U-M Medical School has been a leader in preparing the physicians and scientists of the future, conducting pathbreaking research and working with the U-M Hospitals & Health Centers to deliver outstanding care of all kinds. With top-tier national and international rankings for education & research funding, more than 3,000 faculty and nearly 1,900 students and advanced trainees, the school is truly one of the nation’s leaders and best.