Daniel Blanco-Melo, Ph.D.

Funded by the Stuart Scott Memorial Cancer Research Fund and the V Foundation Wine Celebration in honor of Leo Slattery, 2022 Volunteer Grant Honoree

A big part of the sequences that make our DNA come from viral infections that occurred in the past. These viral ‘fossils’ are typically not active to prevent damage to our genetic material, however in many diseases, including cancer, they are turned on. While it might be logical to think that the activation of these sequences would be a bad thing, evidence suggest that some of these viral fossils were repurposed to perform functions needed for a healthy life. In fact, some viral sequences participate in the formation of the placenta, in the way our genes are activated, and in the way our cells fight other viruses. Therefore, it is possible that the reason we see these viral fossils turned on in cancers is because they are helping the body fight the formation of tumors. Our goal is to test different ways by which the activation of these viral fossils could help prevent and fight cancer. To do this we will search for all the viral fossils present in our DNA, identify sequences that help our bodies find and destroy tumor cells, and test if one special viral fossil is able to prevent tumors by turning off its energy supply. We hope our findings can help the design of novel ways to treat cancer, taking advantage of the potential beneficial roles of these ancient viral sequences.

Location: Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center - NC
Proposal: Understanding the diverse roles of human endogenous retroviruses in cancer
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