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Posts Tagged ‘pittsburgh’

Pitt research indicates new virus is culprit, not bystander, in deadly skin cancer

Kevin: Our growing understanding that some cancers are viral in origin starts to make cancer seem a lot less mysterious. I’m optimistic about continued progress in this important area.

University of Pittsburgh scientists are uncovering more evidence that a virus they recently discovered is the cause of Merkel cell carcinoma, an aggressive and deadly form of skin cancer.

The findings, published in this week’s early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, put to rest the possibility that MCV infects tumors that already have formed. If that were the case, the virus would be a passenger rather than the driver of the disease.

Experiments in human tumors reveal that the cancer develops in two steps: during infection, the Merkel cell polyomavirus, or MCV, integrates into host cell DNA and produces viral proteins that promote cancer formation. Tumors occur when a mutation removes part of a viral protein needed for the virus to reproduce and infect other healthy cells, explained senior investigator, Patrick Moore, M.D., M.P.H, professor of microbiology and molecular genetics at the School of Medicine and director of the Molecular Virology Program at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute. The virus then can spread only as the cancer cells themselves multiply.

Clearly, “MCV infects normal cells before they turn into cancer cells,” Dr. Moore noted. “The virus could not have infected a tumor afterwards because it can no longer replicate. It looks very much like MCV is the culprit that causes the disease.”

The researchers propose two possible reasons why these mutations develop: If viral replication continues, the immune system could recognize the intruder to eliminate diseased cells, or the viral replication itself will lead to the death of the cancer cells. Both of these possibilities provide promising leads to find better ways to kill Merkel cell cancer cells without harming healthy tissues.

Also, “this research shows evolution within tumors on a molecular level,” Dr. Moore pointed out. “You can see the specific molecular steps.” The team’s current work could account for known risk factors for Merkel cell carcinoma such as UV exposure and ionizing radiation, which damage DNA and can lead to the viral mutations.

Merkel cell cancers are rare, occurring in about 1,500 Americans annually. Half of patients who have advanced disease die within nine months of diagnosis, and two-thirds die within two years. The elderly and people with compromised immune systems are at greater risk of developing the cancer, which arises in skin nerve cells that respond to touch or pressure.

In a paper published in Science in January, Dr. Moore and his wife, Dr. Yuan Chang, who co-directs their lab, reported their identification of the virus and that it could be found in 80 percent of Merkel cell tumors. They cautioned that although up to 16 percent of the population carries MCV, very few will develop cancer.

There is no treatment for MCV infection right now, but identifying the agent and understanding how it triggers disease could lead to targeted interventions, Dr. Moore said.

Source: University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences

The original paper: Clonal Integration of a Polyomavirus in Human Merkel Cell Carcinoma. Huichen Feng, Masahiro Shuda, Yuan Chang, Patrick S. Moore. Science 22 February 2008:Vol. 319. no. 5866, pp. 1096 – 1100

The followup discussed here will be appearing in the upcoming early edition of the PNAS.

Pitt faculty receive awards to explore next-generation technologies

Communities powered by clean, local-source energy. Faster, more reliable technologies and computers with a better grasp of human language. Medical care tailored to your DNA, or neural stem cells readily available for treating neurological diseases and injuries.

Five University of Pittsburgh faculty members will advance the futures of energy, health, and technology as part of Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) awards they received this year from the National Science Foundation. The awards fund junior faculty members’ emerging careers and include an education component that encourages outreach to women and underrepresented minorities.

Four recipients teach in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering: Tracy Cui, an assistant professor in the Department of Bioengineering; Di Gao, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering; Lisa Weiland, an assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science; and Jun Yang, an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Rebecca Hwa, an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science in Pitt’s School of Arts and Sciences, also received an award.

Pitt is among 22 schools to receive five or more of the nearly 400 CAREER awards granted so far this year—the award cycle ends Sept. 30. Matching Pitt with five awards are Cornell University, Harvard, the University of California at Los Angeles, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the University of Missouri at Columbia, and the University of Utah. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign tops the list with 16.

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Biomarkers identified for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis

The first evidence of a distinctive protein signature that could help to transform the diagnosis and improve the monitoring of the devastating lung disease idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is being reported by University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine researchers in this month’s edition of PLoS Medicine, an open-access journal of the Public Library of Science.

In the paper, Naftali Kaminski, M.D., director of the Dorothy P. & Richard P. Simmons Center for Interstitial Lung Disease in the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and his colleagues describe a unique combination of blood proteins that appears to distinguish IPF patients from normal controls with extraordinary sensitivity and precision. … Continue Reading »

Study validates Pittsburgh Compound-B in identifying Alzheimer’s disease brain toxin

PiB Autopsy Study Alzheimer’sA groundbreaking study conducted by University of Pittsburgh Alzheimer’s disease researchers reported in the journal Brain (currently online) confirms that Pittsburgh Compound-B (PiB) binds to the telltale beta-amyloid deposits found in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. The finding is a significant step toward enabling clinicians to provide a definitive diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease in living patients. Until now, the beta-amyloid deposits to which PiB binds have been confirmed, without question, only in the autopsied brains of patients afflicted with Alzheimer’s. The new findings, which correlate PiB-identified beta-amyloid deposits from living patients to their post-mortem autopsy results, will ultimately aid in the early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, help clinicians monitor the progression of the disease and further the development of potential treatments. … Continue Reading »