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Lineberger Symposium Highlights Virus and Immunity in Cancer

By Eddy Ball
June 2007

Bernard Roizman
2007 Lineberger Lecturer Bernard Roizman (Photo by Eddy Ball)

Sponsored in part by NIEHS, the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center held its thirty-first Annual Scientific Symposium on April 24 and 25 at the University of North Carolina's Friday Center. Organizers brought together some of the leading cancer researchers working in areas related to the symposium theme, "Viruses, Immunity and Cancer."

The symposium opened with a welcome from Shelton Earp, M.D., director of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, followed by an introduction to the conference theme by Symposium Chair Nancy Raab-Traub, Ph.D. She observed that "between 40 and 50 percent of cancers worldwide involve inflammation or viral infection and the two often work in concert."

Raab-Traub further noted that the introduction of the human papillomavirus vaccine earlier this year has made it especially appropriate for the symposium to revisit the topic of virus and inflammation in cancer. Increasingly, new cancers are being linked to viruses, and immunotherapeutics are being developed utilizing viral agents in the treatment of cancer. Other exciting new research in these areas, she said, involves the inhibition of chemokines and other inflammatory agents in cancer pathways.

Several speakers, such as Sankar Ghosh, Ph.D., of the Yale University School of Medicine, reported on their basic research into the influence of the inflammatory cascade in initiating cell proliferation and inhibiting apoptosis or programmed cell death. Ghosh focused on the role of nuclear factor kappa beta in the acetylation of histones, an important epigenetic alteration involved in the development of tumors.

Some of the most intriguing reports took place in session three, chaired by Lineberger Director Emeritus Joseph Pagano, M.D., the founder of the symposium series. The keynote speaker of the April 25 session was Bernard Roizman, Sc.D., a Distinguished Service Professor of Virology at the University of Chicago and the 2007 Lineberger Lecturer. Roizman spoke on the topic "Targeting Herpes Simplex Virus Mutants for Therapy of Glioblastoma Multiforme," the most common and aggressive of the primary brain tumors.

In the course of his research, Roizman has mapped the genome of herpes simplex virus and developed recombinant DNA techniques that have enabled him and others to determine the role of specific genes in viral infection and replication. Roizman's experimental treatment combines radiation to sensitize cells with novel viruses that specifically target cancer cells and selectively destroy them without affecting normal cells. In experiments with mice, his lab has demonstrated reduction of tumors to almost undetectable levels over a nine-month treatment course.

Baylor College of Medicine Professor Stephen Gottschalk, M.D., reported on a series of bench-to-bedside interventions employing adoptive immunotherapy with cytotoxic T-cells. Gottshalk has used the therapy in patients with advanced cases of the Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV)-associated cancers Nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) and Hodgkin's disease.

His group's therapeutic approach has the major advantage of specifically targeting malignant cells with minimal side effects. Although the patient groups are small, under ten patients, he has shown that administration of the immunotherapy to patients with advanced, EBV-positive NPC or Hodgkin's disease is feasible and safe and results in significant anti-tumor activity in a remarkable number of these patients.

NIEHS used funds from the Division of Intramural Research and the Office of the Director to fund its Leadership Sponsorship of the event. Its support, along with the support other university and outside sponsors, helped to disseminate the results of cutting-edge research in cancer, much of it supported by NIH grants.

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