In 1936, the geneticist and cancer biologist John Joseph Bittner discovered a milk agent in which female mice with breast cancer transmitted the disease to young, nursing mice. The milk agent was later called the mouse mammary tumor virus (MMTV). Bittner first uncovered the virus at the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine.

James F. Holland, a physician and cancer research, has spent much of his life discovering the potential causes of breast cancer particularly viral impacts from the mouse mammary tumor virus. Holland has also formed research collaboration groups and clinical trials to cure acute leukemia as well as played a key role in creating chemotherapies to treat cancer.

According to MedPage Today, at age 91, Holland continues to see his patients twice a week and moves his research forward to uncover the viral causes of breast cancer. At the American Association for Cancer Research annual conference in April, Holland plans to present his research on the mouse mammary tumor virus and its potential link in human breast cancer.

Throughout his career, Holland has served as President of the American Association for Cancer Research as well as the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Additionally, Holland has earned an award for his work on treating acute leukemia.

“It’s his great passion about making a difference in the world that drives him and makes him successful,” Larry Norton, MD, deputy physician-in-chief for breast cancer programs at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, told the news source.

“The real standout thing about Jim was that in an era when nobody thought that drug medicines were going to make a major impact against cancer when surgery and radiation oncology were considered the only viable modalities, there was a small group of people who championed the use of drugs to treat cancer and I had direct exposure to that extraordinary hospital environment.”

Since the mid-1990s, Holland has been working with the virologist Dr. Beatriz Pogo to further uncover how viruses impact breast cancer development. Pogo and Holland have been gathering data to learn about what role the mouse mammary tumor virus plays in human breast cancers.

The research shows that at least 95 percent of a virus in human breast cancers are identical to the mouse mammary tumor virus while about 42 percent of breast cancer patients in a clinical trial had contracted the virus.  

“I’m now in the process of writing a very substantial paper that shows 41.5 percent of these women have the virus in their breast cancer, but if the breast cancer arose during pregnancy or lactation – which is a known high-risk factor and the disease is more vigilant – then 60 percent have the virus, and if they have inflammatory breast cancer, which is really the worst, then 72 percent have the virus,” Holland told the source.

Holland also sees promise in immunotherapies for treating cancer. The doctor went on to say that his work on breast cancer research and its viral causes keeps him working well into old age.

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