• SV40 and Mesothelioma: The Perfect Crime?
  • August 30, 2010 | Author: David A. Oliver
  • Law Firm: Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP - Houston Office
  • For years a controversy has raged over whether simian virus 40 (SV40) causes mesothelioma in humans. While the evidence that SV40 causes mesothelioma, brain cancer and lymphoma in some animals is very strong it's a different story when it comes to humans. Evidence of prior SV40 infection in patients with e.g. mesothelioma has been equivocal at best. Just this month, in "SV40 Associated miRNAs Are Not Detectable in Mesotheliomas", researchers again failed to find the genetic fingerprints of SV40 in mesothelioma samples taken from victims of the disease.

    Not every viral perpetrator of cancer leaves genetic evidence at the scene of the crime though. That's the finding in today's "Vaccination Against a Hit-And-Run Viral Cancer" (free). For the first time the scientists have been able to demonstrate an experimental animal model for sarcoma in which "virus-triggered oncogenesis" generated cancer cells that lacked viral genomes.

    In their dicussion of findings the authors make the following four points: 1) "Most analyses of human cancers have focused on examples of genome retention". 2) The fact that some virus-induced cancers retain viral genomes doesn't prove that all or even most do so. 3) "Relying on viral genome detection to establish aetiology" may dramatically underestimate the role of viruses in cancer. 4) Vaccinations against viruses previously thought to be of little benefit may do far more good than expected.

    Does any of this prove that SV40 is a hit-and-run cause of mesothelioma in humans? No, but it does raise the question of whether viruses have played a role in some of the biggest latent cancer toxic torts of all time. To this day the discoverer of one of the most studied cancer clusters wonders whether it was more than a coincidence that almost half of the stricken workers lived in the same boarding house and that three roomed together. More on that another day.