Cancer Virus in Sheep May Provide Clues to Understanding Human Lung Cancer, According to Hutchinson Center Study

SEATTLE — Apr. 9, 2001 — A virus that causes contagious lung cancer in sheep may be instrumental in understanding a similar malignancy in humans that accounts for 25 percent of lung-cancer cases in the United States, according to researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the National Cancer Institute.

The results of the study, led by A. Dusty Miller, Ph.D., a member of the Hutchinson Center's Human Biology and Basic Sciences divisions, will be published tomorrow in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Miller and colleagues from the NCI report that the Jaagsiekte sheep retrovirus protein that promotes docking and entry into cells, called the envelope protein, can cause cancer-like changes in cultured cells. They also have identified the cell-surface molecule that interacts with the envelope protein and allows the virus to infiltrate cells, a key for understanding how the virus causes cancer. This receptor protein had been identified as a candidate tumor-suppressor protein in bronchioalveolar carcinoma, a non-smoking-related lung cancer of unknown origin.

"This study provides the basis for further understanding of an important human cancer and also advances our efforts to develop this virus as a vehicle for transferring genes to the lung for gene therapy," said Miller, also an affiliate professor of pathology at the University of Washington School of Medicine. "The use of a cancer-causing virus for gene therapy may seem contradictory, but if we can knock out the ability of the virus to cause cancer while preserving its ability to transfer genes to lung cells, such gene-therapy viruses may be very useful, especially for treating lung diseases such as cystic fibrosis."

A related paper in the same issue of PNAS by researchers from the University of California, Irvine, further explores the ability of the envelope protein to cause cancer.

Together, these two studies provide keys for better understanding the mechanism by which this sheep retrovirus causes cancer, as well as its relationship to human lung cancer.

The Hutchinson Center study was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health.

Editor's Note
To arrange an interview with Miller, please contact Kristen Woodward in Hutchinson Center Media Relations, (206) 667-5095. To obtain a copy of the paper, "Candidate tumor suppressor HVAL2 is a glycosylphosphatidylinositol (GPI)-anchored cell-surface receptor for jaagsiekte sheep retrovirus, the envelope protein of which mediates oncogenic transformation," call the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences at (202) 334-2138 or e-mail

Media Contact
Kristen Woodward
(206) 667-5095

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Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, home of three Nobel laureates, is an independent, nonprofit research institution dedicated to the development and advancement of biomedical technology to eliminate cancer and other potentially fatal diseases. Recognized internationally for its pioneering work in bone-marrow transplantation, the center's four scientific divisions collaborate to form a unique environment for conducting basic and applied science. Fred Hutchinson, in collaboration with its clinical and research partners, UW Medicine and Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center, is the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center in the Pacific Northwest and is one of 40 nationwide. For more information, visit the center's website at