A University of Sussex scientist hopes to reveal how a common virus can cause blood cancer after being awarded a research grant by the charity Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research.
Dr Michelle West received £225,000 for the three year project to investigate how infection with the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) leads to the development of some of the most common types of lymphoma. Lymphoma is a blood cancer that appears as a solid tumour most commonly in the lymph nodes of the neck, chest, armpit or groin.
EBV infection is known to ‘reprogramme’ white blood cells, which normally have a life span of only a few weeks, making them immortal and able to multiply rapidly - the hallmark of cancer cells.
Dr West said: “By understanding more about how lymphomas develop, we will be able to inform the design of new treatments. The cutting edge DNA examination technology we are using will be able to pinpoint exactly how the virus targets genes in healthy white blood cells and alters their activity to drive cancer development.”
In particular Dr David Wood, the Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research funded researcher in Dr West’s team, will focus on how EBV can cause Burkitt’s lymphoma, a quickly developing type of the disease that normally starts in the abdomen. EBV sparks a genetic change in the cells, which increases the activity of a cancer-causing gene called MYC.
Professor Chris Bunce, Research Director at blood cancer charity Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, said: “It is likely that EBV infection affects many different genes connected to growth regulation in healthy cells in order to drive continuous growth and lymphoma development.”
“Only a small number of these affected genes have been identified so far. By using state-of-the-art techniques to study new genes and pathways and working out how they are affected by EBV, this exciting project will increase our understanding of how the virus causes lymphoma.”