Immunotherapy against cancer-related viruses

Haruko Tashiro, Malcolm K. Brenner

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


Approximately 12% of all cancers worldwide are associated with viral infections. To date, eight viruses have been shown to contribute to the development of human cancers, including Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), Hepatitis B and C viruses, and Human papilloma virus, among others. These DNA and RNA viruses produce oncogenic effects through distinct mechanisms. First, viruses may induce sustained disorders of host cell growth and survival through the genes they express, or may induce DNA damage response in host cells, which in turn increases host genome instability. Second, they may induce chronic inflammation and secondary tissue damage favoring the development of oncogenic processes in host cells. Viruses like HIV can create a more permissive environment for cancer development through immune inhibition, but we will focus on the previous two mechanisms in this review. Unlike traditional cancer therapies that cannot distinguish infected cells from non-infected cells, immunotherapies are uniquely equipped to target virus-associated malignancies. The targeting and functioning mechanisms associated with the immune response can be exploited to prevent viral infections by vaccination, and can also be used to treat infection before cancer establishment. Successes in using the immune system to eradicate established malignancy by selective recognition of virus-associated tumor cells are currently being reported. For example, numerous clinical trials of adoptive transfer of ex vivo generated virus-specific T cells have shown benefit even for established tumors in patients with EBV-associated malignancies. Additional studies in other virus-associated tumors have also been initiated and in this review we describe the current status of immunotherapy for virus-associated malignancies and discuss future prospects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)59-73
Number of pages15
JournalCell Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017


  • Epstein-Barr virus
  • HBV
  • HCV
  • HPV
  • immunotherapy
  • virus-associated malignancies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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