Hepatitis B-like virus connected to liver disease and cancer in cats.

A new virus discovered last year by Sydney researchers is now believed to be asignificant factor in the development of liver cancer in cats. Furtherresearch into the virus could lead to novel anti-cancer therapies and evenvaccines to prevent some kinds of cancers in cats.

Julia Beatty, Professor of Feline Medicine at the University of Sydney’sSchool of Veterinary Science, said the findings were exciting because it’s astep towards understanding if more cancers are caused by viruses.

“We don’t know what causes most types of cancer but if we know it’s triggeredby a virus we can develop treatments and vaccinations that target the virusinstead of administering anti-cancer drugs,” Professor Beatty said.

The findings are published in the journal Viruses.

Together with collaborators at University of California Davis, ProfessorPatricia Pesavento, and others in the UK and New Zealand, Professor Beatty’steam has found the recently discovered hepatitis B-like virus, called domesticcat hepadnavirus (DCH), in certain types of hepatitis and liver cancer incats. The significance of this research is that it suggests that DCH can causeliver diseases, including cancer in cats.

DCH infection appears to be common in domestic cats with the virus detected in6.5 percent and 10.8 percent of pet cats in Australia and Italy respectively.“It is important to reassure pet owners of two things,” said Professor Beatty.“First, being infected with the virus doesn’t mean that your cat will becomesick, and second, there is no risk to humans – you can’t catch this virus fromyour pet.”

The feline virus is like hepatitis B in people, Professor Beatty said.

“Hepatitis B in people is a major global concern because it can lead to livercancer and chronic hepatitis,” she said. “We wanted to know if the virus incats does the same thing. We’ve found evidence that it probably does.”

In 2015, more than 850,000 people died from chronic hepatitis andhepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). It is amajor global concern as the infection is very difficult to clear from theliver.

Professor Beatty said the findings might also benefit humans in the long term.

But for now, it is a breakthrough in feline medicine because liver cancer incats can be very hard to treat. This new discovery means researchers can nowwork towards vaccines and targeted treatments against the virus, and evenvaccines to prevent other cancers in pets.

“We are really excited because there is no specific treatment for liver cancerin cats at the moment,” Professor Beatty said. “Pets are part of our familiesso this is hugely beneficial for the development of vaccines and treatmentswith fewer side-effects.”

Kristina Vesk, CEO of Cat Protection Society NSW, said: “We are proud to havepartnered with Professor Julia Beatty from the University of Sydney VeterinarySchool in this world-first research discovery. These findings have providedmajor insights into feline health and will go a long way towards preventingharmful illnesses.


This research was funded by the Winn Feline Foundation, a partnershipcollaboration award from the University of Sydney and the University ofCalifornia Davis (2018), and the Cat Protection Society of NSW, Australia.

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