Scientists discover 'traitor' human DNA helps viruses cause cancer

April 26, 2010

( -- University College London scientists have discovered that stretches of human DNA act as a traitor to the body?s defences by helping viruses infect people and trigger cancer-causing diseases.

The research, which was undertaken at the UCL Cancer Institute and funded by Cancer Research UK, and published in today, revealed that viruses can exploit the body’s DNA - dampening its antiviral immune response and allowing infection to take hold more easily.

The UCL Cancer Institute scientists showed that this happened with the Kaposi sarcoma herpesvirus which causes the cancer Kaposi Sarcoma, and also with the which causes cold sores.

Our immune system uses multiple ways to prevent or clear infection. In parallel, viruses have also evolved highly sophisticated counter-measures to escape from the human immune defence.

The team has discovered that viruses exploit tiny molecules derived from called microRNAs, to make cells more susceptible to viral infection. MicroRNAs are mostly found in parts of the human which do not generate proteins - initially thought to be ‘’.

Lead author Chris Boshoff, Director of the UCL Cancer Institute and Cancer Research UK’s Professor of Cancer Medicine, said: “We are investigating microRNAs as future therapeutic targets, and targeting cellular microRNAs could be a potential way to prevent or treat cancer-causing infection from viruses.”

Dr Dimitris Lagos, study author, based at the Cancer Research UK Viral Oncology laboratory, UCL Cancer Institute, said: “The viruses we tested have evolved with humans for millions of years and use a variety of biological tricks to establish life-long and mostly harmless infections. We discovered that it is likely that other viruses - which can cause diseases including exploit the tiny molecules present in everyone’s DNA - called microRNA - to turn cells into a viral ‘hotel’ which they can check into - to cause infection - and spread.”

Explore further: Scientists identify cancer virus' genetic targets

Related Stories

Scientists identify cancer virus' genetic targets

May 11, 2007

University of Florida researchers have identified specific human genes targeted by a virus believed to cause Kaposi’s sarcoma, a rare form of cancer associated with AIDS and with organ transplants that causes patches of ...

Penn researchers discover new mechanism for viral replication

August 16, 2007

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine have identified a new strategy that Kaposi’s Sarcoma Associated Herpesvirus (KSHV) uses to dupe infected cells into replicating its viral genome. This allows ...

The silence of the genes

April 22, 2010

Viruses have evolved a broad range of strategies that enable them to evade the immune systems of their hosts. A team of researchers led by LMU virologist Professor Jürgen Haas has been studying a novel, recently discovered ...

Recommended for you

'Hog-nosed rat' discovered in Indonesia

October 6, 2015

Researchers working in Indonesia have discovered a new species of mammal called the hog-nosed rat, aptly named after its features, that scientists said they had never been seen before.

Ancestors of land plants were wired to make the leap to shore

October 5, 2015

When the algal ancestor of modern land plants first succeeded in making the transition from aquatic environments to an inhospitable shore 450 million years ago, it changed the world by dramatically altering climate and setting ...

Stress in adolescence prepares rats for future challenges

October 5, 2015

Rats exposed to frequent physical, social, and predatory stress during adolescence solved problems and foraged more efficiently under high-threat conditions in adulthood compared with rats that developed without stress, according ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (1) Apr 26, 2010
It's intriguing that since the recent discovery that certain viruses can cause cancer that they've expanded the reaseach so far and so fast.

I'm very confident that we'll have effective, non-destructive cures to most cancers within my lifetime.
3 / 5 (2) Apr 26, 2010
This is the common sense approach to curing cancer. We're finally getting to the cause as opposed to trying to "fix the cell". We need vaccines for the offending viruses.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.