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U-M scientists find common virus in human prostate tissue

ANN ARBOR, Mich. Chances are excellent that your urinary tract is home to a pathogenic organism called the human BK virus. Most of the time, the virus lurks quietly in the kidneys without causing problems. But in people with a depressed immune system especially those who have just received a kidney transplant the virus can cause serious kidney and bladder disease.

Now, new research by scientists at the University of Michigan Medical School suggests the intriguing possibility that this common virus also may play a role in prostate cancer the second-leading cause of deaths from cancer in American men.

A team of scientists directed by Michael J. Imperiale, Ph.D., U-M professor of microbiology and immunology, have found DNA and proteins from the BK virus in prostate tissue with abnormal cell changes. Called atrophic lesions, these changes can be the first step in a series of progressive cell changes leading to prostate cancer.

"Other studies have detected DNA from the BK virus in prostate cancer cells, but this study is the first to pinpoint the location of viral protein expression to one precursor stage in the development of prostate cancer, and to a specific location within prostate cells," Imperiale says. Results from the U-M study, published July 19 in the advance online edition of the journal Oncogene, are available at www.nature.com/onc/journal/vaop/ncurrent/.

"The development of cancer is a multi-step process," Imperiale adds. "Expression of BK viral protein may be just one step among several genetic and environmental factors. We are not saying that BK virus causes prostate cancer, but our results do suggest that the virus plays a role in the transition from normal to uncontrolled growth of prostate cells."

BK is a human virus in the polyomavirus family. It was first discovered in kidney transplant patients who take immun
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