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Causes of Mesothelioma: Cell Methylation and Cancer

One highly contentious issue is the role of simian virus 40 (SV40) in the development of mesothelioma tumors. Found in rhesus monkeys, this virus has been associated with the development of malignant mesothelioma cases.

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The Debate Surrounding SV40 and Its Role in the Development of Mesothelioma

Animal experiments have established that SV40 is a potent tumor inducing virus, however, clinical studies still have not conclusively linked SV40 to human mesothelioma cases. Many studies and publications have demonstrated the presence of SV40 in multiple tumors including malignant mesothelioma.

There is some evidence, however, that the SV40 presence in the samples may be due to pervasive laboratory contamination. The source of this contamination was the original monkey cell cultures used as a medium in which to grow smallpox vaccines. The SV40 remnants were felt to be benign and were therefore ignored by laboratories. It was only later that the tentative connection to cancer was noted.

Evidence Linking SV40 to the Development of Mesothelioma

Animal models and in vitro studies of human mesothelial cells exposed to an attenuated strain of SV 40 suggest that they may act as a carcinogen. When exposed to this attenuated strain of SV40 alone no malignant mesothelioma was observed. However, when mesothelial cells were exposed to both the attenuated strain and asbestos fibers, the result was the development of mesothelioma. It therefore it can be assumed that SV 40 is not directly responsible for the development of mesothelioma but might have a synergistic role when coupled with asbestos exposure. Laboratory work in this area continues and the role of SV40 in mesothelioma is not yet clearly defined.

For more information on the development of mesothelioma, read the following articles:

Mesothelioma epidemiology, carcinogenesis, and pathogenesis.