$2 Million NIH Grant Renews UPCI Research into Viruses, Cancer Pathways

University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences Media Relations

03/05/2014

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has renewed a grant for more than $2 million for Patrick Moore, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Molecular Virology Program at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI), who will use the money to continue research into the newest human cancer virus causing most Merkel cell carcinomas.

A team led by Dr. Moore and Yuan Chang, M.D. discovered the Merkel cell polyomavirus in 2008, the seventh human cancer virus identified and the second discovered by Dr. Moore’s group under the original NIH grant that expires March 31. The new grant will fund the research through March 2019.

“Our initial grant was highly successful and led to new methods to diagnose and treat Merkel cell carcinoma,” Dr. Moore said. “We believe that these findings can help us to uncover new causes of other cancers, which may speed development and testing of new cancer therapies.”

Drs. Moore, Chang and their colleagues at Pitt identified a protein that allows the usually harmless polyomavirus to transform healthy cells into Merkel cell carcinoma, a rare but deadly skin cancer. They hope their work — which emphasizes the importance of fundamental basic science research to medical progress — can soon be translated into human clinical trials.

“Viruses are an important model for cancer research,” said Dr. Chang. “We’ve found that it may be possible to kill cancerous tumors by targeting the pathways these viruses use. That’s significant when you consider that 20 percent of all cancers are related to infectious diseases.”

The NIH grant number is R01 CA136806-06.