Cancer Information Helpline Call 0800 226 237 | Email an Information nurse | Fundraising & Donor Care Helpline Call 0800 467 345

Detecting cytomegalovirus at the single-cell level in breast tumours

By Margaret Currie, Research Associate Professor

Population studies have provided strong evidence for a link between adult infection with a common human virus (human cytomegalovirus; HCMV) and increased risk of breast cancer. So far, efforts worldwide to detect this virus in human breast tumours have been inconsistent.

Researchers expect this is due to:

  • current assays lacking the sensitivity and specificity required for accurate detection of HCMV in single cells, and
  • HCMV infection only causing some types of breast cancer.

The Cancer Society’s grant will make sure the research in this area can continue.

The research team will use RNAscope®, a new technique to detect HCMV genes in single breast cancer cells and other cells in breast tumour tissue (e.g. immune cells).

The researchers will look for HCMV genes and proteins in three clinically relevant types of breast cancer (hormone receptor-positive, HER2 over-expressing and triple-negative breast cancer) using breast tumour samples from the Cancer Society Tissue Bank in Christchurch. 

Once the researchers have developed a test that can detect HCMV accurately in breast tumour cells, further research could lead to early detection of HCMV, use of anti-viral treatment(s) for some types of breast cancer, and prevention of a significant proportion of breast cancers.

Funding: $197,780