Date of Graduation


Document Type

Thesis (MS)

Program Affiliation

Experimental Therapeutics

Degree Name

Masters of Science (MS)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Dr. Feng Wang-Johanning

Committee Member

Dr. Gary Johanning

Committee Member

Dr. Rick Finch

Committee Member

Dr. Mark McArthur

Committee Member

Dr. DeanTang

Committee Member

Dr. Victoria Knutson


Many lines of clinical and experimental evidence indicate a viral role in carcinogenesis (1-6). Our access to patient plasma, serum, and tissue samples from invasive breast cancer (N=19), ductal carcinoma

in situ (N=13), malignant ovarian cancer (N=12), and benign ovarian tumors (N=9), via IRB-approved and informed consent protocols through M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, as well as normal donor plasmas purchased from Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center (N=6), has allowed us to survey primary patient blood and tissue samples, healthy donor blood from the general population, as well as commercially available human cell lines for the presence of human endogenous retrovirus K (HERV-K) Env viral RNA (vRNA), protein, and viral particles. We hypothesize that HERV-K proteins are tumor-associated antigens and as such can be profiled and targeted in patients for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes. To test this hypothesis, we employed isopycnic ultracentrifugation, a microplate-based reverse transcriptase enzyme activity assay, reverse transcription – polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), cDNA sequencing, SDS-PAGE and western blotting, immunofluorescent staining, confocal microscopy, and transmission electron microscopy to evaluate v

HERV-K activation in cancer. Data from large numbers of patients tested by reverse transcriptase activity assay were analyzed statistically by t-test to determine the potential use of this assay as a diagnostic tool for cancer.

Significant reverse transcriptase enzyme activity was detected in 75% of ovarian cancer patients, 53.8% of ductal carcinoma

in situ patient, and 42.1% of invasive breast cancer patient samples. Only 11.1% of benign ovarian patient and 16.7% of normal donor samples tested positive. HERV-K Env vRNA, or Env SU were detected in the majority of cancer types screened, as demonstrated by the results shown herein, and were largely absent in normal controls. These findings support our hypothesis that the presence of HERV-K in patient blood circulation is an indicator of cancer or pre-malignancy in vivo, that the presence of HERV-K Env on tumor cell surfaces is indicative of malignant phenotype, and that HERV-K Env is a tumor-associated antigen useful not only as a diagnostic screening tool to predict patient disease status, but also as an exploitable therapeutic target for various novel antibody-based immunotherapies.