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HPV causes cancer by altering DNA.

A study from The Princess Margaret has identified the genetic mechanisms that underlie how human papillomavirus (HPV) drives cancer development.

Over 200 types of HPV have been identified and the symptoms of infection can range from warts to cancerous tumours. “In fact, almost all cervical cancers and up to 70% of head and neck cancers are driven by HPV infections,” says The Princess Margaret Senior Scientist and radiation oncologist Dr. Scott Bratman.

By comprehensively analysing genomics data, the team discovered that integration of HPV DNA into the human genome initiates a domino effect. Integration at a specific site leads to downstream effects on the structure of the genome, which in turn alters gene expression and, ultimately, leads to cancer development. Finding ways to block this cascade could unlock future therapeutic strategies for a variety of cancers.

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(L-R) Co-senior authors of the study: Drs. Michael Hoffman, Scott Bratman and Mathieu Lupien; first author of the study, Dr. Mehran Karimzadeh.

Overcoming cancer treatment complications.

A team of researchers at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre has identified a way to predict the likelihood of complications, such as blood infections, in patients undergoing stem cell transplants.

“By digging deeper into the status of certain cells within the immune system, our findings reveal a new strategy to identify individuals at high risk for complications — opening the door to better, more targeted therapies,” says the first author of the study, Dr. Omnia Elebyary.

The results reveal that measuring the proportion of polymorphonuclear neutrophils (PMNs) in a “primed” state after transplant could serve as a powerful tool to identify those at risk. Immune cells become pre-activated or “primed” when they come in contact with a foreign substance in the body — such as bacteria or viruses. Once they are in this state, they are ready to fight off the invader.

“These findings highlight the potential clinical value of this white blood cell subset in identifying patients at higher risk of bloodstream infections,” says Dr. Glogauer, a clinician investigator at the cancer centre and senior author of the study. “This could be particularly important in patients undergoing chemotherapy and in those with bone marrow disorders.”

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Dr. Michael Glogauer (L) and Dr. Omnia Elebyary (R).

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