Whitehouse Lab

Research into viruses and cancer

Infection is a major cause of cancer worldwide. Viruses are associated with ~15% of human cancers, which approximates to about 2 million new cases very year in the world. Research in the the Whitehouse laboratory aims to understand how viruses cause cancer and develop novel antiviral staratgies to prevent infection and tumourigenesis.

We focus on studying the molecular biology of the two most recently discovered human tumour viruses:

(i) Kaposi's sarcoma associated herpesvirus (KSHV)

This is an oncogeneic herpesviruses which has been associated with a variety of lymphoproliferative disorders including Kaposi's sarcoma (KS), primary effusion lymphoma and multicentric Castleman's disease. Widespread HIV infection has now turned KS into an epidemic disease in Africa. KS is now the most common adult tumour in parts of Africa. Like other herpesviruses, KSHV has two distinct forms of infection, latency and lytic replication. Although latency has been implicated in tumourigenesis, reactivation and lytic replication play an important part in the pathogenesis and spread of KSHV infection. Therefore, we have a major research focus to study the molecular mechanisms which regulate reactivation and lytic gene expression to provide a better understanding of KSHV pathogenesis. Moreover, these projects will provide valuable information on the host cell-virus interactions which may ultimately lead to the identification of specific antiviral targets which could be developed as novel treatments for this important human pathogen.

(ii) Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCPyV)

Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is a highly aggressive human cancer of the skin that occurs in elderly and immunosuppressed patients. Merkel cell polyomavirus was discovered in 2008 and is present in 80% of human Merkel cell carcinomas. Therefore, MCPyV is likely to have a causative role in MCC. Due to its recent discovery, little is known about the link between MCPyV and MCC. Therefore, we are currently investigating the role of MCPyV encoded proteins in transformation and immortalisation of human cells.