NEWS | June 18, 2012

Stowell lectureship focuses on aggressive skin cancer virus discovery, June 27


Virologist and pathologist Yuan Chang, who co-discovered two of the seven known human cancer viruses, will discuss "Merkel Cell Polyomavirus: From Pathology to Therapy" as a guest speaker for the 2012 Robert E. Stowell Lectureship at UC Davis.

Yuan Chang Yuan Chang

The lecture takes place at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, June 27, at the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center auditorium, 4501 X Street, Sacramento.

Chang, a professor and co-director of the Molecular Virology Program at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Center, co-discovered Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpes virus in 1994, working with her husband, Patrick S. Moore, at Columbia University. From two small DNA fragments representing less than 1 percent of the viral genome, she cloned the entire genome and fully sequenced it within two years after its initial discovery, leading to blood tests to detect infection. Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpes virus is the most common malignancy occurring in AIDS patients.

Most recently, she and Moore's laboratory discovered the Merkel cell polyomavirus, the culprit causing the aggressive and deadly skin cancer, Merkel cell carcinoma, using digital transcriptome subtraction, a new technique developed in Chang's lab to detect human cancer viruses. The bioinformatics method detects the presence of novel pathogen transcripts --lengths of RNA or DNA that have been transcribed from DNA or RNA templates respectively --  through computational removal of the host sequences.

The discovery of these viruses, combined with pathogenesis studies by Chang and her colleagues, sets the stage for development of novel therapeutic interventions for virus-associated cancer.

Current estimates suggest that viruses are involved in 15 percent to 20 percent of human cancers worldwide, and it is expected that more tumor-causing viruses will be discovered. These viruses have served as windows into the development of all human cancers, since their study has revealed many of the molecular and genetic mechanisms that control cell growth, including activation of genes that have the potential to cause cancer (oncogenes) and inactivation of tumor suppressor genes. These insights are important to developing diagnostic tests and treatments.

The author of more than 90 articles in the medical literature, Chang serves on the editorial boards of the American Journal of Pathology and the Journal of Human Virology and has received numerous honors and awards, including the Charles Mott Prize, the Meyenburg Foundation Award for Cancer Research, the Robert Koch Prize, Sloan-Kettering's Paul Marks Prize, the Carnegie Science Award, and the New York City Mayor's Award for Excellence in Science & Technology. On the University of Pittsburgh faculty since 2002, she holds a bachelor's degree in biological sciences from Stanford University and a medical degree from the University of Utah.

The Robert E. Stowell Lectureship supports the annual appointment of a distinguished scientist as a visiting lecturer at the UC Davis School of Medicine. The lectureship, established in 1991, is named for its founder, an internationally renowned pathologist and educator who, before his retirement, served as the first chair of the school's Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. Stowell, who passed away late last year, was the recipient of the nation's highest award in pathology, the American Association of Pathologists Gold-headed Cane.

All Robert E. Stowell Lectureship presentations are free and open to the public, with no reservations required.

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