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Advances in Health and Medicine

Understanding the Origins of Cancer


Like all living things, cells have a life cycle. But sometimes, certain things—radiation, environmental factors—cause cells not to die, growing unabated into tumors. What then?

Pitt professors Yuan Chang and Patrick Moore study cell immortality and its causes. Their research in the University’s Cancer Virology Program into the viral origins of cancer has advanced understanding of the disease. The husband-and-wife team has discovered causes of four different human cancers. In 1994, they isolated the Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus, which caused epidemic cancer among HIV/AIDS patients. In addition, they identified Merkel cell carcinoma, which affects both the nervous system and the skin.

One key tool in their research has been digital transcriptome subtraction, developed by fellow Pitt researcher Huichen Feng, which subtracts human DNA sequences from data sets, leaving only candidate nonhuman sets for closer examination.

At the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute’s Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) in lung cancer, professor Jill Siegfried and her team investigate a different origin: growth factors, estrogen, and other hormones. Their work focuses on how hormones affect cellular pathways and tumor growth as well as their role in risk for cancer.