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Associate Professor Ling Yang was awarded the Cancer Big Data prize at the Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre 2023 Annual Symposium on 16 March. Her presentation “Prospective evaluation of the relevance of Epstein–Barr virus antibodies for early detection of nasopharyngeal carcinoma in Chinese adults” described research which investigated the role of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection in nasopharyngeal cancer (NPC) in China, where there are high rates of NPC, particularly in certain regions.

The presence of different EBV antibodies in the blood, which tell us which types of EBV infection have occurred, can be used to predict an individual’s future risk of developing NPC. The research used a new assay to measure 16 different EBV antibodies in blood samples from over 1,000 CKB participants before any cancers were present. During the study follow-up period 300 participants went on to develop NPC. Although nearly all EBV antibodies were associated with developing NPC, there were particular combinations that could strongly predict risk, even when the antibodies were measured several years before cancer developed. These two- and four-antibody combinations could be used in population screening tests for early NPC detection and prevention in community and clinical settings in China.