February 5, 2020

Whole-genome analysis generates new insights into viruses involved in cancer

Dr. Ivan Borozan

OICR researchers scan more than 2,600 whole cancer genomes for traces of known and potentially unknown cancer-causing viruses, identifying new ways that these pathogens may eventually lead to the disease

It is estimated that viruses cause nearly 10 per cent of all cancers. These cancer-causing viruses – also known as oncoviruses – can make changes to normal cells that may eventually lead to the disease. As researchers better understand how oncoviruses cause cancer, they can develop new therapies and vaccines to prevent them from doing so.

In the most extensive exploration of cancer genomes to date, OICR researchers and collaborators discovered new insights into the mechanisms behind the seven known oncoviruses, and provided strong evidence that there are no other human cancer-causing viruses in existence.

Their study was published today in Nature Genetics, alongside more than 20 related publications from the Pan-Cancer Analysis of Whole Genomes Project, also known as the Pan-Cancer Project or PCAWG. The research group analyzed whole genome data from more than 2,600 patient tumours representing 35 different tumour types.

“The Pan-Cancer Project is one of the largest cancer genome projects to date,” says Dr. Ivan Borozan, Scientific Associate at OICR and leading co-author of the study. “This project allowed us to search for viruses in the most comprehensive collection of cancer genomes using the latest and most advanced techniques. To analyze this extensive dataset, we first had to develop computational tools and analysis pipelines that can efficiently process large-scale sequencing data and – at the same time – extract accurate information about minute amounts of the viral genome present in each individual sample. The results generated using these tools were then integrated to decipher molecular mechanisms that lead to the development of cancer.”

Our research points towards a future where these cancers can be treated more effectively, and potentially prevented in the first place.
– Dr. Ivan Borozan

The group discovered that an individual’s immune system, while trying to protect itself from a certain strain of the well-known human papillomavirus (HPV), may cause damage to normal DNA that lead to the development of bladder, head, neck and cervical cancers.

The study also found that the hepatitis B virus (HBV), which is linked to some liver cancers, causes damage in normal cells by integrating into human DNA close to TERT, a well-understood cancer-driving gene.

Spinoffs of this research initiative have led to important discoveries about the Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) and how it can promote the development of stomach cancer.

“These findings can help us develop new vaccines or therapies that target these mechanisms,” says Borozan. “Our research points towards a future where these cancers can be treated more effectively, and potentially prevented in the first place.”

As new sequencing research initiatives emerge, the research group’s computational tools and pipelines – which are available for the research community to use – will help further explain the mechanisms behind this complex disease.


Related links

September 11, 2018

Portal to access world’s largest database of pediatric genomic data goes live

OICR’s Genome Informatics team plays key role in development of the Gabriella Miller Kids First Data Resource Portal

Toronto (September 11, 2018) – Today, the Gabriella Miller Kids First Data Resource Center (DRC) at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia launched the Kids First Data Resource Portal, which will advance personalized medicine for the detection, therapy, and management of childhood cancer and structural birth defects. As the Kids First DRC’s chief outward-facing tool, the Kids First Data Resource Portal serves the needs of a diverse group of patients, researchers, and clinicians partnering to create the world’s largest database of pediatric genomic data, and provides the necessary tools and computational resources for their analysis and interpretation.

Continue reading – Portal to access world’s largest database of pediatric genomic data goes live

June 13, 2018

Viral protein identified as one of the main drivers of virus-induced stomach cancers

The Epstein Barr virus in false Colour

Some common pathogens, like the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), can turn healthy cells into cancer cells, but it is not well understood how they do so. Better understanding how such pathogens work allows researchers to find new ways to target the pathogen’s disease-causing mechanisms and ultimately find new treatments for certain virus-induced cancers.

Dr. Ivan Borozan, from Dr. Vincent Ferretti’s Lab at OICR, and Prof. Lori Frappier at the University of Toronto are working together to better understand EBV and how it triggers the transformation of normal cells to cancerous cells, also known as oncogenesis. Together, they have identified that a key protein expressed by EBV, BKRF4, is one of the likely drivers behind EBV-induced stomach cancers.

Continue reading – Viral protein identified as one of the main drivers of virus-induced stomach cancers

May 23, 2018

OICR’s Cancer Genome Collaboratory wins 2018 OpenStack Superuser award for contributions to the cancer research community

Vincent Ferretti's lab at work.

Based on popular vote and review by the Superuser Editorial Advisory Board, OICR’s Cancer Genome Collaboratory team has won the 2018 OpenStack Vancouver Summit Superuser Award. The Award recognizes OICR’s use of OpenStack, an open-source software platform for cloud computing, to enable cancer research worldwide. Previous winners of the Superuser Award include AT&T, CERN and Comcast.

“We’re proud to be recognized by the greater research community that we support,” Vincent Ferretti, Director and Senior Principal Investigator, Genome Informatics at OICR, says. “OpenStack has helped us contribute to the cancer research community in Ontario, across Canada and internationally.”

Continue reading – OICR’s Cancer Genome Collaboratory wins 2018 OpenStack Superuser award for contributions to the cancer research community

January 25, 2018

The Canadian Data Integration Centre receives new funding to help cancer researchers translate findings to patients

CDI - LogoToronto (January 25, 2018) – The Canadian Data Integration Centre (CDIC) has received $6.4 million in funding from Genome Canada to help the research community translate the biological insights gained from genomics research into tangible improvements for cancer patients.

CDIC is a “one-stop shop” service delivery platform for cancer researchers, helping streamline research by providing coordinated expertise on a broad range of services, including data integration, genomics, pathology, biospecimen handling and advanced sequencing technologies. It is an international leader in genomics, bioinformatics and translational research, supporting some of the world’s largest programs in genomic data analysis, genomic and clinical data hosting, cancer data analyses and access, and the development of algorithms for advanced sequencing technology.

Continue reading – The Canadian Data Integration Centre receives new funding to help cancer researchers translate findings to patients

December 7, 2017

Finding new ways to prevent virus-induced stomach cancers

An illustration of the Epstein-Barr virus

The link between some viruses and cancer has long been established. Now, researchers like OICR’s Dr. Ivan Borozan are using genomic sequencing to analyze common viruses like Epstein-Barr (also called human herpes virus 4). This knowledge could ultimately be used to develop new therapeutic vaccines to keep these viruses from taking hold in the body and prevent associated cancers from ever developing in the first place.

Continue reading – Finding new ways to prevent virus-induced stomach cancers

August 15, 2017

New data resource centre will help better understand links between birth defects and childhood cancer

Researchers from the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research playing major role in the design and development of the new initiative.

Toronto (August 15, 2017) – Children with structural birth defects are at a much higher risk of developing certain types of childhood cancers but scientists currently lack vital information about why this occurs.

Continue reading – New data resource centre will help better understand links between birth defects and childhood cancer

September 15, 2016

Canadian government makes big investment in big data research

OICR's server room

On September 13 the Government of Canada, through Genome Canada, made a $4 million investment in Canadian big data research to help improve real world challenges such as infectious disease outbreaks, managing food crops and combating cancer.

Of the 16 projects funded across Canada, three are based at OICR. Led by OICR Principal Investigators Drs. Paul Boutros, Vincent Ferretti, Jared Simpson and Lincoln Stein (Stein is also OICR’s Interim Scientific Director and leader of the Institute’s Informatics and Biocomputing Program), the projects are developing ways to make genomics and health data more manageable, securely accessible and easily understood. Together these projects will help to facilitate cancer research and assist in the adoption of more precision medicine. As well, they have applications in other fields of genomics research beyond cancer, such as agriculture and energy.

Continue reading – Canadian government makes big investment in big data research