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Understanding how a virus can cause lymphoma

It’s thought that the Epstein-Barr virus is responsible for the development of many types of lymphoma. However, it’s not fully understood how the virus causes these diseases. Professor Michelle West will study this, with the hope of finding new ways to treat the disease.

Professor Michelle West


The challenge

The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is a virus thought to be responsible for causing blood cancers including Burkitt lymphoma, diffuse large B-cell lymphoma and Hodgkin lymphoma. However, we don’t fully understand how these diseases develop. It’s thought that the virus can enter white blood cells called B cells, and manipulate them, causing them to constantly divide and turn cancerous. This turns B cells, which normally only have a life-span of a few weeks, into cells that survive indefinitely.

The project

In the project, Professor Michelle West wants to understand how the virus turns B cells into cells that continually divide and grow. She is studying how the virus takes control of B cells, by switching on genes which cause these cells to grow out of control, and switching off genes that stop the cells growing or cause them to die. In a previous grant from Blood Cancer UK, Professor West identified proteins produced by the EBV virus that can take control of B cells and change the behaviour of these cells. Her team will now explore this further and try to find ways to reverse this process.

The future

The team hope that by understanding how EBV changes B cells they’ll be able to find new strategies to destroy cancerous cells and find new treatments to treat lymphomas in the future.

A scientist - Professor Michelle West - working in a lab at the University of Sussex

Professor Michelle West working in the lab at the University of Sussex