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PRESS RELEASE: Advances in understanding lung cancer in sheep may lead to new diagnostic tests

Immunofluorescence of lamb lung tissue

A new study recently published in Journal of Virology has identified genetic changes occurring during the growth of lung cancer in sheep that improve understanding of how the disease develops. This could help lead to earlier diagnosis of the disease in sheep and in humans.

Ovine Pulmonary Adenocarcinoma (OPA) is an infectious and deadly lung disease of sheep, caused by the Jaagsiekte Sheep Retrovirus (JSRV). JSRV infects the lung and triggers the growth of cancerous cells. The affected cells then produce more of the virus which can infect new areas of the lung or spread to other sheep. While JSRV can affect sheep and goats, it cannot be passed on to humans or other animals.

In affected flocks, OPA can result in the death of 1-20% of the sheep in a year and poses a significant economic problem for farmers as a result. However, the reason why the sheep respond so badly to the virus is currently poorly understood.

The study, led by researchers from the Moredun Research Institute and the University of Edinburgh, looked at how lung cells change when infected with JSRV. It was found that cells related to the immune system and the formation of cancer had altered gene expression, which affects the production of proteins important for cell function.

“Understanding the genes that are switched on or off during JSRV infection provides important clues as to how the virus initiates cancer and may lead to novel routes for combating the disease,” says Dr David Griffiths of the Moredun Research Institute.

Investigating OPA also represents a valuable tool for studying some forms of human lung cancer, due to similarities in how the cancer cells are activated in the sheep and human diseases.  By comparing their results on OPA to previously published data on human lung cancer, the team found a large degree of overlap in the genes that were ‘faulty’. Lung cancer is difficult to diagnose in its early stages in both sheep and humans and the discovery of common markers could lead to improved early detection of cancer in both sheep and humans.



  • Moredun Research Institute conducts internationally recognised research on the infectious diseases of livestock, caused by important viruses, bacteria and parasites. It employs 170 scientists, vets and support staff who continue to help find solutions for major challenges to modern farming such as the consequences of a changing climate; ensuring safe and sustainable food and water supplies conserving biodiversity and finding solutions to infectious disease. Today, many of the veterinary medicines and vaccines that are routinely used on farm have either been researched, developed or tested at Moredun. More information about the work of Moredun Research Institute can be found at www.moredun.ac.uk 
  • The Roslin Institute's mission is to gain fundamental understanding of genetic, cellular, organ and systems bioscience underpinning common mechanisms of animal development and pathology, and to use this knowledge to prevent and treat important veterinary diseases and develop sustainable farm animal production systems. The Institute receives strategic investment funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and it is part of the University of Edinburgh’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies. More information can be found at https://www.ed.ac.uk/roslin/ 
  • Moredun Research Institute is a member of SEFARI (Scottish Environment, Food and Agriculture Research Institutes), a consortium of six globally renowned research institutes. As SEFARI, these institutes deliver the Scottish Government funded Strategic Research Programme, which addresses key mid to longer-term challenges for Scotland’s environment, agriculture, land use, food and rural communities. https://sefari.scot/ 


For further information, please contact:


Amy Tyndall


Moredun Research Institute

Tel: 0131 445 5111

E: [email protected]