Cancer NEPRC scientists are uncovering the mechanisms through which viruses transform normal cells into cancerous cells.  
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Researchers in the Division of Tumor Virology are focused on developing primate models for human cancers and understanding the molecular mechanisms of lymphoproliferative diseases induced by herpesviruses. Viral-induced cancers in primates are relevant to the study of human cancer because many viruses that occur naturally in monkeys are strikingly similar to those that have been identified in humans.

Nonhuman primate models of viral-induced cancer are helping NEPRC scientists to understand fundamental mechanisms through which normal cells are transformed into cancerous cells. The contribution of individual oncogenes to this process of unrestricted cell proliferation is also being intensively investigated.

Ongoing research in tumor virology focuses on Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus, or KSHV, and the related monkey viruses, herpesvirus saimiri and rhesus monkey rhadinovirus, both of which were originally discovered at NEPRC. Kaposi's sarcoma is the most commonly found tumor in patients with AIDS. Investigators in the Divisions of Tumor Virology, Microbiology, Comparative Pathology, and Primate Resources are working together to further develop the rhesus monkey rhadinovirus as an animal model for KSHV pathogenesis.

Another program with important implications for human disease is the Center's research on colon cancer. Colorectal cancer, the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the US, is most often associated with a genetic mutation on specific tumor suppressor genes; however, NEPRC scientists are actively exploring a potential viral etiology of colon cancer. New viruses, closely related to human Epstein-Barr virus and hepatitis G virus, have already been identified from primate colon carcinomas, and NEPRC researchers are now determining how these viruses contribute to the development of colon cancer.



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