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Rous, Francis Peyton

cancer virus cell viral

[rows] (1879–1970) US pathologist and oncologist: showed that some cancers are caused by a virus.

During his second year as a medical student at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD, Rous scraped his finger on a tuberculous bone while doing an autopsy and became infected. After surgery he spent a year working as a cowboy before returning to medicine and graduating in 1905. He had a long career of over 60 years at the Rockefeller Institute in New York, working mainly on cancer. In 1911 he showed that a spontaneous cancerous tumour in a fowl could be transplanted by cell grafts and (remarkably) that even cell-free extracts from it would convey the tumour. This pointed to the cause being a virus, and by the 1930s several types of animal cancer were shown to be due to a virus. The Rous chicken sarcoma remains the best-known example. Initially the idea of a virus causing cancer was hard to believe, as the pattern of the disease is so different from that of typical viral infections. Rous developed methods for culturing viruses and cells; and he proposed that cancer formation (carcinogenesis) typically involves one or both of two processes, initiation and promotion, which can require two different agents that may be chemical, viral, radiological or even mechanical. He shared a Nobel Prize in 1966. He was an active researcher until he was 90.

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