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Newly discovered virus linked to deadly skin cancer
Date:1/17/2008

PITTSBURGH, Jan. 17 A new strategy to hunt for human viruses described in this weeks issue of the journal Science by the husband-and-wife team who found the cause of Kaposis sarcoma has revealed a previously unknown virus strongly associated with another rare but deadly skin cancer called Merkel cell carcinoma. 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 advanc
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Contact: Michele Baum
BaumMD@upmc.edu
412-647-3555
University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Source:Eurekalert

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