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Emerging virus in raccoons may provide cancer clues
Date:12/12/2012

Rare brain tumors emerging among raccoons in Northern California and Oregon may be linked to a previously unidentified virus discovered by a team of researchers, led by scientists from the University of California, Davis. Their findings, published today in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, could lead to a better understanding of how viruses can cause cancer in animals and humans.

Necropsies conducted since March 2010 by scientists at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and UC Davis-led California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory found brain tumors in 10 raccoons, nine of which were from Northern California, the article reports. The 10th was sent to UC Davis by researchers at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore.

The common factor, found in all of the tumors, was a newly described virus, dubbed raccoon polyomavirus. Researchers suspect this virus contributes to tumor formation.

Polyomaviruses, which are prevalent but rarely cause cancer, do not typically cross from one species to another, so the outbreak is not expected to spread to people or other animals.

Two more raccoons with the tumor and the virus have been found in Yolo and Marin counties since September 2012, when the article was submitted to the journal for publication.

"Raccoons hardly ever get tumors," said study author Patricia Pesavento, a pathologist with the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. "That's why we take notice when we get three tumors, much less 12."

Polyomaviruses are known to cause cancer under laboratory conditions. Less is known about their ability to cause cancer under natural conditions among people, because cancer often takes decades to develop.

Raccoons, with their short lifespans of two to three years, can provide a model for studying how these viruses spread outside the laboratory, how they cause cancer, and how easily they can jump from species to species.

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Contact: Kat Kerlin
kekerlin@ucdavis.edu
530-752-7704
University of California - Davis
Source:Eurekalert

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