Cancer Virology Program (CVP)

Merkel Cell Polyomavirus

Over 1 in 5 cancers worldwide are caused by infections. CVP is dedicated to research on the viruses causing human cancer as well as using viruses as tools to fight cancer. The study of tumor viruses has led to important discoveries in cancer research, including the identification of numerous oncoproteins and tumor suppressor proteins critical for the development of all cancers. Of the seven tumor viruses known to cause human tumors, the two most recently discovered cancer viruses, Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpes virus (KSHV) and Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCV) were found by researchers in the Hillman Cancer Virology Program. Discovery of MCV at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center as the causative agent in most Merkel cell carcinomas (MCC) has represented the culmination of several years of interdisciplinary research.

CVP provides broad-ranging expertise in tumor virology and has matured into an internationally recognized center for tumor virus research with expertise on basic mechanisms of viral tumorigenesis, viral genomics, microRNA, circRNA, epitranscriptomics, epigenetics, cancer metabolism, inflammation, and immune signaling in cancer. These diverse research interests have naturally evolved into long-term collaborations with other Hillman programs like the Genome Stability Program, Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention Program, and the Cancer Immunology and Immunotherapy Program, and with Hillman investigators involved with several collaborative grants including the Specialized Program in Research Excellence (SPORE) in Skin Cancer and the SPORE in Head and Neck Cancer.

CVP investigators are focused on three major themes:

  1. The search for and identification of viral agents that cause or contribute to human cancer using genomic technologies.
  2. Investigations focused on basic tumor virology to understand how viruses and viral and host proteins contribute to human cancer with the goal of identifying novel therapeutic targets and agents.
  3. Development of vector-based vaccines, oncolytic virus therapies, and vectors for gene therapy as well as biomarkers

Research Themes

Cancer Virus Discovery

Viral cancers provide unique opportunities for cancer treatment and prevention through development of antibody tests, antiviral therapy, and vaccines. At present, only seven established human tumor viruses are known, but numerous human cancers are suspected to have an infectious etiology that has not yet been identified. Discovery of each human tumor virus has spawned a new research field that has contributed to our understanding of infectious tumors and cancer biology.

This research theme, unique to UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, leverages Hillman researchers' established expertise in genomic technologies to identify new viral agents contributing to human cancer. NPD activity consists largely of collaborations between computational biologists and genomic research scientists. One recent success was the discovery of the Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCV), which is now known to cause ˜80% of Merkel cell carcinomas.

Viral Biomarkers and Therapeutics

The CVP has a long-standing research interest in viruses as delivery vectors for cancer-specific antigens to enhance immunologic therapies, and to develop novel oncolytic viral therapeutics.

Viral Oncology

This group of scientists performs cutting-edge research at the forefront of some of the most exciting areas of cancer biology. Viruses have long been used as tools to understand basic mechanisms of cancer development and progression. Many cellular proteins crucial in oncogenesis and tumor suppression were first discovered by studying tumor viruses. UPMC Hillman Cancer Center is building on this foundation and has gathered an extremely strong and interactive group of tumor virologists who use viruses to understand how cancers arise or progress. n addition to using traditional approaches to investigate viral interactions with cancer cell signaling pathways, faculty members in this theme are also building approaches to understanding virus-host cell interactions in areas such as identification of viral circRNAs and delineation of their functions, microRNAs (miRNAs) in viral cancers, virus reprogramming of metabolic pathways, epigenome and epitranscriptome, cancer inflammation and angiogenesis, innate immune evasion and genomic instability caused by viruses, identification of driver and vulnerable genes, and therapeutic agents.

See Program Members

Member Publications