|04.18.12 - Groundbreaking Research has Promise for Treatment and Prevention of Cancers Caused by Viruses
Saranac Lake, New York - April 18, 2012 - New research from the Trudeau Institute, a biomedical research center, addresses how the human body controls gamma-herpesviruses, a class of viruses that cause cancer. The study carried out by Dr. Marcia Blackman, was just published in The Journal of Immunology. The breakthrough study accelerates the development of therapies to control infection and prevent virus-associated cancers.
One of the many factors that can contribute to the development of cancer is a viral infection. Some cancer-causing viruses are gamma-herpesviruses like the Epstein Barr virus and Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus. With more than 95 percent of the human population infected with one or both of these viruses, it is critical to understand their infection cycles and how immune responses keep them in check in the majority of individuals.
Gamma-herpesvirus infections are characterized by two distinct phases. In the initial, active phase, the immune system responds by attacking the virus. The virus, however, has developed clever mechanisms for “sneaking” past the immune response to conceal itself within the body, a process researchers refer to as latent infection. While in hiding, the virus persists in a quiet, inactive state. When the immune system is weakened, such as following a transplant or as a consequence of infection, such as HIV, there is a chance that cancer may develop.
Dr. Marcia Blackman summarized the study by saying, “This foundational research in an experimental model paves the way for scientists and physicians around the world to develop therapies to control gamma-herpesvirus infections and prevent the development of some cancers.”
Led by postdoctoral fellow Mike Freeman, the key finding of the Blackman study is that the mechanism by which a type of white blood cell, called a CD8 T cell, controls the virus differs between the initial active phase of infection and long-term latent infection. These groundbreaking findings will greatly influence the direction of research on therapeutic strategies targeted toward prevention of these virus-associated cancers.
The Trudeau Institute is an independent, not-for-profit, biomedical research organization, whose scientific mission is to make breakthrough discoveries leading to improved human health. Trudeau immunologists are committed to making breakthrough research discoveries that will prevent and treat cancer, asthma, allergy, arthritis, colitis, multiple sclerosis, and infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis, influenza and sepsis. The Institute is supported by federal and state grants, and contributions from individuals, private foundations, and corporations.