SV40 was discovered as a contaminant of poliovirus vaccines that were inadvertently administered to millions of people in Europe and the United States between 1955 and 1963. Shortly afterwards, SV40 was proven to be oncogenic in rodents and capable of transforming human and animal cells in vitro. The possibility that SV40 might cause tumours in humans thus became a subject of scientific and public interest and scrutiny. However, largely due to a lack of significant epidemiological evidence, interest in assessing SV40's potential carcinogenic role in humans diminished. Recently, many laboratories have reported the presence of SV40-like DNA in a high proportion of human mesotheliomas, ependymomas and osteosarcoma (the three main types of tumours caused by virus in hamsters), renewing the question whether SV40 might be a human tumour virus. Molecular data from these studies are reviewed to re-evaluate the potential role of SV40 as a human carcinogen. © 2001 Academic Press.
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