Virus and Other Infection-associated Cancers

Program Overview

When most people think of infections, they visualize dangerous viruses and bacteria that rapidly cause illnesses such as pneumonia, influenza and polio. Surprisingly, viruses and bacteria are also responsible for 18% of human cancer deaths worldwide. New associations of bacterial toxins, abnormal bacterial colonization (dysbiotic microbiome), and bacterial-driven inflammation with cancer have added to the more established knowledge that viruses cause cancer. There are likely additional undiscovered viruses and bacteria that contribute to various human cancers. Furthermore, because infection with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) suppresses the immune system, HIV infection and AIDS are associated with development of cancer.

Teams of researchers within Yale Cancer Center’s Virus and Other Infection-associated Cancers (VOIC) program know that there is great opportunity to prevent and treat cancers associated with infections. In fact, virally induced tumors, such as the 19,000 cancer diagnoses caused by Human Papillomaviruses (HPV) in men and women every year in the United States—and the hundreds of thousands of such tumors worldwide—can be prevented with vaccines already in use. Development of preventative vaccines targeting other viruses (including HIV) or bacteria/bacterial proteins has promise to prevent many cancers. Treatments to improve dysbiotic microbiome or to specifically eliminate bacteria that make cancer-causing toxins are also areas ripe for cancer prevention. Discovery of novel treatment and prevention approaches based on understanding of the interaction of bacterial or viral proteins or genomes, as well as, the patient’s response to infection are major efforts in the Virus and Other Infection-associated Cancers program. In addition, members of the Virus and Other Infection-associated Cancers program within Yale Cancer Center are exploring the tantalizing potential of delivering altered viruses to kill tumors. Yale’s researchers and clinicians are proud to be at the forefront of innovation as they create new approaches to prevent and treat tumors.

Victories in this arena are already at hand with approved vaccines against HPV that prevent infection; however, Yale researchers are working to increase adoption of this vaccine to assure that all young men and women are protected. These reductions should lead to fewer diagnoses of cervical cancer in women, oropharyngeal (throat) cancer in all populations, and a decrease of many other cancers.

Research Highlights

The Links Between HIV And Cancer - The indirect links between HIV and cancer are well established. “There are at least three connections,” said Walther Mothes, PhD.

Learning How to Block HPV at the Door

Dr. Daniel DiMaio, Deputy Director of Yale Cancer Center and Professor of Genetics, Therapeutic Radiology, and Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, and his associates in his lab, are working to discover how to block initial human papillomavirus (HPV) events before the virus can establish itself.


The Local Approach is Showing Great Promise for Stopping Herpes Before It Strikes

How to develop vaccines that target localized viral infections is one of the many ambitious research areas for Dr. Akiko Iwasaki, Professor of Immunobiology and of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, and recently awarded Howard Hughes Medical Investigator.


HCV Particle Interactions Prove Fertile Ground for Potential Therapies

The Lindenbach Lab led by Brett Lindenbach, PhD, Associate Professor of Microbial Pathogenesis at Yale School of Medicine, and member of the Yale Cancer Center Molecular Virology Research Program, is conducting promising research that may lead to medications that target multiple components of the replication complex and are exponentially more effective.

Kriegel goodman

Molecular Virology Expanding Scope to Include Bacteria and Microbiome

One of Walther Mothes’ first acts as the new Co-Leader for Molecular Virology was to recruit Andy Goodman and Martin Kriegel to lead the program’s new branch of research. Molecular Virology, with Dell Yarbrough as the established Co-Leader, is broadening its scope from studying only human tumor viruses to studying all infectious causes of human cancer including bacteria and the microbiome.