Advances in understanding lung cancer in sheep

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A new study recently published in the Journal of Virology has identified genetic changes occurring during the growth of lung cancer in sheep that improve understanding of how the disease develops.

This could help lead to earlier diagnosis of the disease in sheep and in humans.

Ovine Pulmonary Adenocarcinoma (OPA) is an infectious and deadly lung disease of sheep, caused by the Jaagsiekte Sheep Retrovirus (JSRV). JSRV infects the lung and triggers the growth of cancerous cells. The affected cells then produce more of the virus which can infect new areas of the lung or spread to other sheep. While JSRV can affect sheep and goats, it cannot be passed on to humans or other animals.

In affected flocks, OPA can result in the death of 1-20% of the sheep in a year and poses a significant economic problem for farmers as a result. However, the reason why the sheep respond so badly to the virus is currently poorly understood.

The study, led by researchers from the Moredun Research Institute and the University of Edinburgh, looked at how lung cells change when infected with JSRV. It was found that cells related to the immune system and the formation of cancer had altered gene expression, which affects the production of proteins important for cell function.

Investigating OPA also represents a valuable tool for studying some forms of human lung cancer.