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Genetics Researchers Identify New Cancer-Causing Virus

Researchers Identify New Cancer Causing Virus  A new study issued by the Laboratory for Developmental Genetics at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles has identified a new cancer causing virus called cytomegalovirus (CMV). The discovery places CMV

Genetics Researchers Identify New Cancer-Causing Virus  
 
A study issued by the Laboratory for Developmental Genetics at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles has identified a new cancer-causing virus called cytomegalovirus (CMV). The discovery places CMV in a group of fewer than 10 identified oncoviruses—defined as a virus that can trigger cancer growth in healthy cells or exploit mutant cell weaknesses to enhance tumor formation.  
 
Published online in the journal Experimental and Molecular Pathology (November 2011), the findings detail the serious health implications of CMV virus—a common cause of salivary gland cancers. Lead study author Michael Melnick, PhD, DDS, professor of developmental genetics in the USC Ostrow School of Dentistry and co-director of the Laboratory for Developmental Genetics, said the CMV classification was reached after intensive study of human salivary gland tumors and the salivary glands of postnatal mice. Melnick adds the virus may be linked to other cancers, as well. 
 
During the study, newborn mice developed cancer after exposure to purified CMV. The research team, which included Tina Jaskoll, PhD, USC professor of developmental genetics and co-director of the Laboratory for Developmental Genetics, Parish Sedghizadeh, DDS, MS, director of the USC Center for Biofilms and associate professor of diagnostic services, and Carl Allen, DDS, MSD, of The Ohio State University, also identified a molecular signaling pathway exploited by the virus to create tumors. The pathway was similar in both humans and postnatal mice. The study marks an important breakthrough, as the virus is extremely prevalent in humans. “CMV is incredibly common; most of us … carry it,” Melnick states. “In healthy patients with normal immune systems, it becomes dormant. No one knows what reactives it.”  
 
Salivary gland cancers are usually diagnosed in the latest stage and surgical treatment often centers on the facial region. Jaskoll believes the team’s findings will create new prevention and treatment methods for salivary gland cancer, and “could allow us to have more rational design of drugs used to treat these tumors.” 
 
Further studies are planned. “This should be a most fruitful area of investigation for a long time to come,” Melnick asserts, adding, “This is just the tip of the iceberg with viruses.”  
 
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