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Hostile Takeover
23 February 2013

Hostile Takeover

Viruses thrive by exploiting host cells to replicate themselves – with potentially devastating effects on host health. A case in point, Simian Virus 40 (pictured here as a computer simulation) hijacks its host cell’s replication machinery, and causes uncontrolled cell division and tumour formation. SV40 was famously discovered in 1960 by researchers using macaque monkey cells to produce a vaccine against poliomyelitis. This sparked fears that it might cause cancer in vaccinated patients. So far only ‘footprints’ from SV40 have been found in human tumours. Antibodies that detect an SV40 protein (shown in red) do ‘light up’ tumours from some patients suffering from chest cancers caused by exposure to asbestos. But despite this tantalising sign, a clear causal link remains to be unearthed, and more work is needed to understand the impact of SV40 on humans.

Written by Emmanuelle Briolat

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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