Researchers from the University of East Anglia have helped to carry out the first comprehensive survey of viruses found within different types of cancer.
An international team systematically investigated the DNA found within more than 2,600 tumor samples from patients with 38 different types of cancer.
They discovered traces of viruses in 13 percent of the samples studied, and also further identified some of the mechanisms that viruses use to trigger carcinogenic mutations.
The findings come after UEA scientists pioneered a new way of finding the bacteria and viruses associated with cancer.
Dr Daniel Brewer, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School and a Visiting Worker at the Earlham Institute (EI), said:
We already knew of some strong associations between infections and cancer. For example, the presence of Helicobacter pylori in the digestive tract can lead to stomach ulcers and is associated with stomach cancer.
Meanwhile some types of the HPV virus can cause cervical cancer.
Human tissue is increasingly being whole genome sequenced as we transition into an era of genomic medicine.
When tumor samples are whole genome sequenced, DNA from any pathogens present are also sequenced, making it possible to detect and quantify viruses.
This has given us a fantastic opportunity to collect data to find new associations between viruses and different types of cancer.
This is the first time that a systematic study of the majority of cancer types for viruses has been made.
It is important because finding new links between infection and cancer types has the potential to provide vaccines, such as the HPV vaccine, which could reduce the global impact of cancer.”
To date, 11 pathogens have been identified as cancer-causing – including Helicobacter pylori, some types of the HPV virus, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and the Epstein-Barr Virus.
Throughout the world, a total of 640,000 cancers each year are caused by human papillomaviruses (HPV) alone, with a vaccine expected to prevent the vast majority of cervical cancers.
The new research provides an overview of which viruses play a role in which cancers.
The researchers also looked for viruses that have not previously been associated with carcinogenesis or even ones that were completely unknown.
Dr. Marc Zapatka from DKFZ said:
The issue of which viruses are linked to cancer is highly relevant in medicine, because in virus-related cancers, real prevention is possible.
If a carcinogenic virus is identified, there is a chance of avoiding infection with a vaccine to prevent cancer developing.”
The research was led by the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) and is part of the Pan-Cancer Analysis of Whole Genomes (PCAWG), a consortium of more than 1,300 researchers who have teamed up to establish which genetic mutations or patterns of DNA mutations play a role in several types of tumors. It is an initiative launched by the International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC).
For this meta-analysis, they carried out a comprehensive bioinformatic analysis of the sequencing data of more than 2,600 tumor genomes from 38 different types of cancer. Related Stories
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