Dr. Craig McCormick
Inflammation, Infection & Immunity, Cancer
Scientists are finding more links between viruses and cancer every day. “Right now we know that about 15 per cent of all cancers are caused by viruses,” says Dr. McCormick, an associate professor at Dalhousie Medical School. “These include human papilloma virus, which leads to cervical cancer, and the hepatitis B and hepatitis C viruses, which can cause liver cancer.”
Dr. McCormick is studying how the human herpesvirus-8 (HHV-8) both triggers and drives the growth of Kaposi’s sarcoma in people with compromised immune systems. “This common virus can be traced back to early humans - it infects many of us, but a healthy immune system will normally keep the infection under control and prevent cancer,” notes Dr. McCormick. In people with HIV/AIDS, however, the virus can take advantage of a weak immune system and set the cancer process in motion.
“Over the past two years, we’ve learned a lot about how the virus disables our natural anti-cancer defences, while at the same time it drives the proliferation of cancer cells and the formation of blood vessels that feed the tumour,” Dr. McCormick says. “Now we’re looking at how we can genetically manipulate the virus so it loses its ability to cause cancer.”
Dr. McCormick has teamed up with IWK-Dalhousie oncologist-hematologist Dr. Jason Berman and DMRF Cameron Research Scientist Dr. Graham Dellaire to grow Kaposi’s sarcoma cells in zebrafish. He and his team will use live-cell imaging equipment purchased through the 2013 Molly Appeal to observe the cancers in living fish, to learn how various drugs may interfere with the herpesvirus infection and put a stop to the cancer.
“Until now, there have been no good models of Kaposi’s sarcoma.” says Dr. McCormick. “The zebrafish model combined with the new live-cell imaging equipment positions us as global leaders in this research area. We look forward to making great strides over the next few years.”