A study to learn more about how the Epstein Barr virus affects immune system cells and may help to cause cancer

Cancer type:

Blood cancers
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma





This study will look at blood and tissue samples from people with and without a condition linked to a virus called the Epstein Barr virus (EBV).

The Epstein Barr virus is a common virus Open a glossary item that most adults carry without noticing any effects. It usually infects cells of the immune system called B cells. But in some rare cases, the EB virus can infect other immune system cells called T cells and natural killer (NK) cells. This can cause rare types of lymphomas and leukaemias, including a non Hodgkin lymphoma which develops outside the lymphatic system (extra nodal Open a glossary item), and a leukaemia called ‘aggressive natural killer cell leukaemia’.

Researchers want to understand more about how EBV helps these and other conditions to develop. They will look at samples from people with and without conditions related to the Epstein Barr virus. They will also create a record or ‘registry’ of information about people across the UK with these conditions. This will help doctors to find out as much as possible about these rare conditions, and the best ways to treat them. The aims of this study are to

  • Learn more about Epstein Barr virus infection of NK and T cells
  • See how the Epstein Barr virus may help cancer to develop in these cells
  • Build up a registry of information about these conditions

You will not have any direct benefit from taking part in this study, and it is unlikely to change your treatment plan in any way. But the results of the study will be used to help people with cancer in the future.

Who can enter

You can enter this study if you have, or your doctor thinks you may have, a cancer or another condition related to the Epstein Barr virus. These are rare conditions and include

  • A type of non Hodgkin lymphoma of natural killer (NK) cells or T cells found in your nose or a part of your body other than the lymph nodes (‘nasal or nasal type extra nodal Open a glossary item) NK/T cell lymphoma’)
  • A type of leukaemia called ‘aggressive natural killer cell leukaemia’
  • An immune system disorder where white blood cells (macrophages Open a glossary item) and lymphocytes Open a glossary item do not die off when they should, but attack normal cells (Haemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH))
  • An infection causing fever, swollen glands, enlarged liver and enlarged spleen, called ‘chronic active EBV’

The study team will also look at samples from people who do not have one of these conditions, including tissue from people who have had their tonsils removed and blood samples from the Blood Transfusion Service.

Trial design

Everyone taking part will give the study team permission to

  • Take a sample of blood (between 4 and 10 teaspoons)
  • Take an extra sample of cells if you have a bone marrow test
  • Use a piece of the cancer tissue removed during a biopsy if you have one
  • Look at your medical notes to find out more about your condition, test results, treatment and outcome – the team will treat this information anonymously, so no one will be able to link the results to you

Hospital visits

The study team are looking at samples of blood or tissue that have either already been taken, or will be taken at the same time as your routine tests.
So you will not need to make extra visits to the hospital to take part in this study.

Side effects

As there are no treatments in this study, there are no side effects. You can find out more about biopsies and bone marrow tests on CancerHelp UK.


Newcastle upon Tyne

Recruitment start:

Recruitment end:

How to join a clinical trial

Please note: In order to join a trial you will need to discuss it with your doctor, unless otherwise specified.

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Chief Investigator

Dr Claire Shannon-Lowe

Supported by

Cancer Research UK
Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre (ECMC)
Gregor Mackay Memorial Fund
NIHR Clinical Research Network: Cancer
University of Birmingham

Questions about cancer? Contact our information nurses

Freephone 0808 800 4040

Last review date

CRUK internal database number:


Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Cara took part in a clinical trial

A picture of Cara

"I am glad that taking part in a trial might help others on their own cancer journey.”

Last reviewed:

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