New Affiliated Group at Turku Bioscience

Epstein-Barr virus is the founding member of the ever-growing list of oncogenic viruses and it has been linked to 2% of all cancer cases worldwide. Although better known for causing B-cell lymphomas, EBV infection has recently been associated with a subtype of gastric cancer. The definition of this molecular subtype of gastric cancer has opened the way to investigate how EBV infection leads to cancer in the gastric epithelium. Gaining this understanding will be key to developing more targeted therapies for this disease. New and effective therapies for gastric cancer are urgently needed as the prognosis is poor and mortality rates are among the highest for this type of cancer.

This type of research has been limited by the lack of appropriate experimental models. For example, the species specificity of EBV precludes the use of animal models. Remarkably, recent methodological advances and the establishment of gastric organoids have for the first time allowed us to closely mimic the natural environment and conditions within the human body, providing valuable insights into the contribution of specific oncogenic triggers to viral oncogenesis.

Currently, we have established a solid working platform where we can infect and grow healthy gastric organoids to study their progression to cancer. By combining epidemiological, clinical and experimental data, we have already identified key oncogenic triggers for EBV-associated gastric cancer and are now testing novel therapies in our organoid-based system.

In addition, we are expanding our scope beyond Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) to include Kaposi’s sarcoma herpesvirus (KSHV), the other member of the human gamma herpesvirus family – this expansion broadens our understanding of viral-associated cancers, recognizing the diverse nature of these pathogens and the unique mechanisms they employ in oncogenesis.

The mission of the viral oncogenesis research group will be to study the molecular mechanisms of viral-induced cancers, with a focus on gamma herpesviruses, using physiologically relevant models to identify novel targets for therapeutic intervention. Our research fits well within the Turku Bioscience framework and we look forward to fostering collaborative initiatives.

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Dr. Silvia Gramolelli is a new member of Turku Bioscience. She completed her Ph.D. at Hannover Medical School (Germany) in 2015 and then worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the Academy of Finland in the group of Päivi Ojala (University of Helsinki). In 2021 she moved to Turku and worked as a senior researcher in the groups of John Eriksson and Lea Sistonen. In 2023 she received the Academy of Finland Research Fellowship. She is now an independent group leader at the University of Åbo Akademi.