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Antigen, meet antibody

HTLV-1 is an annoying little bug. Although most people who get it are fine, four percent get sick with everything from leukemia to lower limb paralyses, arthritis and uveitis, an inflammation of the iris.

Your basic viruses are tiny intracellular parasites whose sole purpose is to invade the cells of other organisms - like yours, for instance - and make copies of themselves. Scientists debate whether viruses are alive or whether they're just molecules capable of reproduction under specific conditions, like microscopic Xerox machines that need your DNA to work.

Harmful viruses make people sick in a variety of ways: destroying the cells they have invaded; whipping up the immune system into a frenzy of fevers, fatigue, and other symptoms or by jury-rigging the DNA of their host's chromosomes.

Torres' specialty is retroviruses, which reproduce by making DNA from RNA using an enzyme called reverse transcriptase. Because they make DNA retroviruses can integrate into their host's DNA, sometimes (as in the case of HIV) lying dormant for years.

HTLV-1 is one of three viruses that have since been linked to cancer in humans. The others are human papilloma virus, which causes cervical cancer, and hepatitis C virus, which causes liver cancer.


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Supporting Cancer Center
UC Davis Cancer CenterUC Davis Health System

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Jose´ Torres is developing a vaccine to send HTLV-1 packing.