Researchers using sequencing technique discovered a new cancer virus Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCV) causing Kaposi’s sarcoma, is associated with another rare but deadly skin cancer called Merkel cell carcinoma.
The research was conducted at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, and reported in the journal Science.
In the paper, University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) researchers, Huichen Feng, Ph.D., Masahiro Shuda, Ph.D., Yuan Chang, M.D., and Patrick Moore, M.D., M.P.H., explain a nearly decade-long effort to harness the sequencing technology to identify the virus, which they call Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCV). While the research team emphasizes that their work does not prove MCV to be the cause of Merkel cell carcinoma, if the findings are confirmed, they may lead to new cancer treatment and prevention options.
“This is the first polyomavirus to be strongly associated with a particular type of human tumor,” said Dr. Moore, professor of microbiology and molecular genetics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and leader of the molecular virology program at UPCI. “Although polyomaviruses have been studied in relation to cancer development for years, the weight of scientific evidence had been leaning toward the view that these viruses do not cause human cancers.”
Polyomaviruses are a group of viruses that have been shown to cause cancers in animals for more than 50 years. But Dr. Moore noted that additional research is needed to determine what role, if any, MCV plays in human cancer development.
A rare but extremely aggressive cancer that spreads rapidly into other tissues and organs, Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) develops from specialized nerve cells that respond to touch or pressure. The incidence of MCC has tripled over the past 20 years to about 1,500 cases a year, especially among people whose immune systems are compromised by AIDS or transplant-related immunosuppressant drugs. About half of patients with advanced MCC live nine months or less, and some two-thirds of MCC patients die within five years.
“If these findings are confirmed, we can look at how this new virus contributes to a very bad cancer with high mortality, and, just as importantly, use it as a model to understand how cancers occur and the cell pathways that are targeted,” added Dr. Moore. “Information that we gain could possibly lead to a blood test or vaccine that improves disease management and aids in prevention.”
Funding for the study was provided by the National Institutes of Health and the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
Source: University of Pittsburgh, USA