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    Viruses may lead to skin disease, cancer

    What researchers have learned about cancer from the study of Kaposi’s Sarcoma and Merkel Cell Carcinoma

    Caption of photo above: Photomicrograph of Merkel cell carcinoma Invasive skin Merkel cell carcinoma caused by Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCV T antigen, brown).

    Over the last several years, the understanding of various cancers and their etiologies has gone viral. Literally. Advances in genetics research resulted in discovery of 11 new human polyomaviruses over the past eight years, including those causing Merkel cell carcinoma, trichodysplasia spinulosum, HPyV7-related hyperplasia/dyskeratosis, necrotic skin lesions and other skin diseases.

    READ: Advances in understanding, treating MCC

    In his plenary session at the 23rd World Congress of Dermatology in Vancouver, June 2015, Patrick Moore, M.D., M.P.H., discussed lessons researchers have learned from studying Kaposi’s sarcoma and Merkel cell Carcinoma. He is distinguished professor, Department of Molecular Microbiology and Genetics, University of Pittsburgh; director, Cancer Virology Program, Hillman Comprehensive Cancer Institute.

    Dr. Moore, who together with Yuan Chang, discovered two of the seven known human cancer viruses: Kaposi’s sarcoma herpesvirus (KSHV/HHV8) and Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCPyV), notes that researchers are only beginning to understand the range of viruses resident in skin that may be the cause of long-established idiopathic (and perhaps common) dermatologic disorders. New technologies, such as genomic sequencing, have helped illuminate hundreds of new viruses. It’s believed that viruses cause 15-20% of all cancer cases worldwide; as researchers uncover the connections between viruses and malignancies, the diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment of skin cancers caused by viruses are rapidly changing.

    Moore’s Research Lab studies Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV), the viral cause of Kaposi’s sarcoma; Merkel cell  polyomavirus (MCV), the viral cause of Merkel cell carcinoma; and methods to search for undiscovered human tumor viruses.

    READ: Skin clues help identify cancer metastases

    To search for new human tumor viruses, the lab developed a technique called digital transcriptome subtraction (DTS) to sample tumor mRNA profiles for foreign transcripts. Unlike other new pathogen discovery techniques, DTS is quantitative so researchers can rule out infection if no foreign transcripts are found. Moore’s Research Lab has successfully used DTS to measure KSHV transcription in infected cell lines, and researchers have demonstrated that an AIDS-related cancer, squamous cell conjunctival carcinoma, is unlikely to be caused by an exogenous infection.

    NEXT: Uncovering the virus to cancer route

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