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Scientists At Danbury Hospital Link Common Virus To Cancerous Tumors

Western Connecticut Health Network doctors Cristiano Ferlini, left, and Paul Fiedler, are two authors of a new study that links a common virus with most cancers.
Western Connecticut Health Network doctors Cristiano Ferlini, left, and Paul Fiedler, are two authors of a new study that links a common virus with most cancers. Photo Credit: Provided

DANBURY, Conn. -- Scientists at the Western Connecticut Health Network have found the Epstein-Barr virus -- the most common virus found in the human body -- is associated with solid tumors and correlates with a poor prognosis in patients with early stage cancers.

The groundbreaking discoveries are detailed in "Epstein-Barr Virus MicroRNA Expression Increases Aggressiveness of Solid Malignancies" in the Sept. 16 issue of PLOS ONE, a peer-review journal that provides free access to a global audience.

The Western Connecticut Health Network includes Danbury Hospital and Norwalk Hospital. 

"The implications for treating patients in the future are huge," said Cristiano Ferlini, director of medical research, in a press release. "These findings set the stage for further research to develop a blood test to detect the abnormal activation of the Epstein-Bar virus in early stage cancer patients - a move that could lead to personalized treatments that improve survivorship and reduce mortality."

The study represents the latest milestone for Ferlini and the Western Connecticut Health Network Research Institute team since opening five years ago, according to a press release.

The Epstein-Barr virus is a member of the herpes virus family and is best known as the cause of infectious mononucleosis. Most people get infected with the virus at some point in their lives. Once inside, the virus persists in the body for life and can remain dormant for years or reactivate quietly without causing symptoms.

The scientists at WCHN used data from the National Cancer Institute's Cancer Genome Atlas to perform the first mapping of viral microRNAs among billions of microRNA sequences within cancer and adjacent normal tissues. MicroRNAs - found in human and non-human tissue are considered the master switches that control cell function.

The research findings show an active role of Epstein-Barr microRNAs in solid tumors across all types of cancer in both men and women with the presence of viral microRNA consistently higher in cancer tissue compared to adjacent noncancerous tissue in all cancer types.

Detecting these specific viral microRNAs may help identify early stage cancer patients who are at risk of poor outcomes. With further research, these patients could be candidates for novel therapeutic treatments, such as a class of medications known as immune checkpoint inhibitors. 

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