The Relationship between Epstein Barr Virus & Cancer – And the path towards the cure
Scientists have known for years that there is a link between Epstein Barr virus and Burkitt & Hodgkin lymphomas; however the exact mechanisms of this relationship have not been understood.
Recently, scientists at the University of Sussex have been researching this relationship and have made exciting progress. Prior to this research project, the team, led by Professor Michelle West (yay women in STEM!) set out to study Epstein Barr Viruses’ role in two genes involved in cancer development: MYC, which drives cancer when it is activated at a high level, and BCL2L11, a gene that can control cell lysis to prevent cancer.
The team at the University of Sussex found that the above statements are in fact true, and that the virus is able to turn on / off these genes by altering upstream enhancer DNA regions. Thus, rather than altering the actual genes itself, the virus hijacks upstream enhancer (“control”) regions. Specifically, EBV increases contacts between enhancers for the MYC cancer causing gene and decreases enhancers for the BCL2L11 cell lysis gene.
Additionally, the research team worked towards understanding drug development in their research, and found a specific drug (not mentioned in this article) that can be used that will hinder the virus from controlling the enhancers for the BCL2L11 gene! The understanding that a drug can prevent the virus from stopping cell lysis of cancer cells is HUGE, and a very important discovery for cancer treatment. The research team plans to continue to study the relationship between EBV and lymphoma (blood cancer), specifically, which genes and enhancers are the drivers of cancer development. This understanding of lymphoma development will further help researchers understand the kinds of drugs that can be used to treat this disease.
I find this article fascinating! I would never have imagined that a virus could cause cancer development by switching upstream cell enhancers – although this is terrifying, it is exciting to know that scientists are working hard to better understand this relationship in order to be able to treat it.
Source: “How a common virus triggers blood cancer” – University of Sussex
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/11/161110124410.htm (November 10, 2016)