Does virus infection play a role in the development of prostate cancer in men of African and African-Caribbean origin?

Background to project

1 in 4 Black men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime in the UK – that’s double the overall 1 in 8 risk faced by all men. In this study, researchers will look for a virus in African and African-Caribbean men and particularly in men with a family history of prostate cancer from this ethnic group. Scientists have been looking for a link between infection and prostate cancer for the last 30 years, but haven’t found one yet. Now technology has advanced to the stage where it’s possible to look at the RNA level (RNA is a type of genetic material - an intermediate stage that translates the DNA ‘instructions’ into proteins that carry out those instructions) for evidence of any viral infection.

What they set out to do

The team extracted RNA from patient samples, which was then cleaned and read. Any non-human RNA found in the sample was highlighted and compared to an appendix of known viral RNA sequences. This was done to see if there are any similarities between the non-human RNA found in the samples and known viral (or bacterial) RNA sequences.

What they found out

Out of the matches that were found there was an equal number of viral RNA sections between cancer and non-cancer samples, as well as between ethnic groups.
The viral RNA sections that had been detected were from a specific virus known as human endogenous retrovirus. As most people have some RNA from the human endogenous retrovirus, this was not considered to be a cause of prostate cancer and therefore was discounted.  From the samples collected the researchers were unfortunately unable to make any firm conclusions regarding a link between viral RNA and cancer, and that a far greater number of samples from different ethnic groups would be required to identify any associations. 

How will this benefit men?

Unfortunately, from the number of samples collected it was not possible to obtain any conclusive results. However, the study has created usable instructions for removing the RNA from the sample and reading it, which is quite a tricky procedure. These instructions can now be used in future research. The team think that if a larger number of samples were collected, usable results would be able to show whether there is a link between prostate cancer and a virus in African and African-Caribbean men, which would open new possibilities for treatment and prevention in these men.

Grant information

Researcher - Professor Myra Olga McClure
Institution - Imperial College London
Grant award - £74,867.00
Reference - PA14-034