Scientists at the Western Connecticut Health Network Research Institute in Danbury have obtained evidence that when human cells with the Epstein-Barr virus, a member of the herpes virus family, pass through a tumor, the virus is reactivated and the tumor and virus work together to suppress the immune system.
For decades, doctors and scientists have known this virus is linked to a few malignancies, mostly lymphomas. But the Danbury scientists say their work shows it’s linked to most cancers, including the most common types of lung, colon, prostate, liver and bladder cancer.
Their discoveries are detailed in an article published in “PLOS ONE,” a peer-review scientific journal published by the nonprofit Public Library of Science.
“The implications for treating patients in the future are huge,” said Dr. Cristiano Ferlini, the institute’s director of biomedical research and Rudy and Sally Ruggles chief of cancer research.
“These findings set the stage for further research to develop a blood test to detect the abnormal activation of the Epstein-Barr virus in early stage cancer patients — a move that could lead to personalized treatments that improve survivorship and reduce mortality,” Ferlini said.
“Our goal is to get this research to the bedside as soon as possible,” he said. “We want our discoveries to make a difference in the lives of our patients.”
Last year, Ferlini and other researchers analyzed genetic information from 487 patients with ovarian cancer. In December, they announced their research showed viruses contracted early in life can lay dormant in human cells and be reactivated years later when cancer is diagnosed, possibly changing the outcomes of the disease.
Expanding on this finding, the institute’s scientists analyzed genetic information from 3,000 patients, which they received from the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Genome Atlas. The Danbury scientists used computer software they created to examine the genetic sequences of a particular subclass of ribonucleaic acid (RNA) and discovered a surprising amount derived from viruses.
“Characterizing even a tiny bit of that complexity, especially when our patients may potentially benefit from this new information, is particularly gratifying,” said Dr. Paul Fiedler, co-author and the network’s chairman of the pathology and laboratory medicine department.
The 5-year-old institute’s 17,000-square-foot facility houses state-of-the-art equipment for basic research and complements ongoing research being conducted at the hospital, including clinical trials and epidemiologic studies.
“This landmark research reinforces the difference we make when we can apply such advanced findings to the care we deliver,” Dr. John Murphy, Western Connecticut Health Network’s president and chief executive officer, said in a prepared statement.
“All of our work at the research institute advances medical treatment. What makes a difference, here at home, is how whatever we learn in this community can help not only the people we care for here, but also those who are well beyond our reach,” Murphy said.
Source: Danbury News Times