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UNC Lineberger’s Dirk Dittmer, PhD, Joel Parker, PhD, Sara Selitsky, PhD, and colleagues published a new study in the journal mSystems, an open access journal of the American Society for Microbiology. The study used data from The Cancer Genome Atlas project to explore whether Epstein-Barr virus is linked with additional cancer types beyond gastric cancer, nasopharyngeal carcinoma, and certain lymphomas, which have been convincingly linked to infection with the virus.

UNC Lineberger’s Dirk Dittmer, PhD, Joel Parker, PhD, and Sara Selitsky, PhD.

To test if the virus was associated with other cancer types, researchers developed a novel virus detection software, VirDetect, and ran it on more than 10,000 RNA-seq samples. After finding low levels of the virus with a frequency of more than 5 percent in more than 12 different tumor types, they hypothesized that the low levels of virus in these samples was due to infiltration of infected B-cells into the tumors. To test this hypothesis, they used previously assembled B-cell receptor repertoire data and found that not only was B-cell abundance increased in EBV-positive tumors, but the B-cell population was more diverse, independent of abundance.

The study, “Epstein-Barr Virus-Positive Cancers Show Altered B-Cell Clonality,” suggests a potential new biomarker for a tumor’s immune status, the researchers write in the study. The study was led by Selitsky, a bioinformatics scientist at UNC Lineberger, Dittmer, who is a UNC Lineberger member, co-director of the UNC Lineberger Global Oncology Program and professor in the UNC School of Medicine Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and Parker, who is the director of the Lineberger Bioinformatics Core and an associate professor in the UNC School of Medicine Department of Genetics. Additional authors include David Marron, MS, research associate at UNC Lineberger, and Lisle Mose, principal software engineer at UNC Lineberger.