Viruses thrive by exploiting host cells to replicate themselves – with potentially devastating effects on host health. A case in point, Simian Virus 40 (pictured here as a computer simulation) hijacks its host cell’s replication machinery, and causes uncontrolled cell division and tumour formation. SV40 was famously discovered in 1960 by researchers using macaque monkey cells to produce a vaccine against poliomyelitis. This sparked fears that it might cause cancer in vaccinated patients. So far only ‘footprints’ from SV40 have been found in human tumours. Antibodies that detect an SV40 protein (shown in red) do ‘light up’ tumours from some patients suffering from chest cancers caused by exposure to asbestos. But despite this tantalising sign, a clear causal link remains to be unearthed, and more work is needed to understand the impact of SV40 on humans.
Written by Emmanuelle Briolat
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