Cancer is usually caused by faults in a cell’s DNA, making it grow out of control. But certain cancers start when viruses hijack cells, subverting their normal behaviour. One example is Burkitt’s lymphoma – an aggressive cancer of the immune system caused by a virus called EBV. The disease is becoming more common, particularly in parts of Africa, but it’s still a mystery exactly how EBV causes it. Scientists are growing virus-infected lymphoma cells in fertilised chicken eggs to see how EBV helps cancer cells to reprogramme the healthy tissue around them, creating fertile ground for the tumour to spread. Clumps of lymphoma cells (coloured green) invade into the placenta-like membrane inside the egg (blue), sparking growth of new blood vessels (pink) to feed the expanding tumours. The scientists hope their egg-based system will help them to finally crack the secrets of this dangerous disease.
Written by Kat Arney
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