New Role for a Common Virus?
BK connection with prostate cancer suggested by U-M research
Photo: Martin Vloet
Many scientists think abnormal prostate cell changes like those shown here could be the first step in the transition to prostate cancer.
Courtesy: Dweepanita Das, Ph.D., U-M Medical School
Chances are excellent that your urinary tract is home to a pathogenic organism
called the human BK virus. Most of the time, the virus resides quietly in the
kidneys without causing problems. But in people with a depressed immune system
— especially those who have just received a kidney transplant —
the virus can cause serious kidney and bladder disease.
Now, new research by U-M Medical School scientists suggests the intriguing
possibility that this common virus may also play a role in prostate cancer —
the second-leading cause of deaths from cancer in American men. Results of the
research were published in Oncogene.
A team of scientists directed by Michael J. Imperiale, Ph.D., a professor of
microbiology and immunology, have found DNA and proteins from the BK virus in
prostate tissue with abnormal cell changes. Called atrophic lesions, these changes
can be the first step in a series of progressive cell changes leading to prostate
“We are not saying that BK virus causes prostate cancer, but our results
do suggest that the virus plays a role in the transition from normal to uncontrolled
growth of prostate cells,” says Imperiale.
BK is a human virus in the polyomavirus family. Scientists have found BK virus
in several types of human cancer, and it has been shown to cause kidney tumors
in laboratory mice.
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