The National Institutes of Health has awarded Keck School of Medicine of USC researchers a five-year, $7.5 million grant to investigate how Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV) evades the immune system and triggers certain cancers.
Principal investigator Jae Jung, Distinguished Professor of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology and Pharmacology and Pharmaceutical Sciences, and holder of the Fletcher Jones Foundation Chair in Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, said the research aims to find ways to short circuit the development of Kaposi’s sarcoma.
This malignant tumor, often caused by KSHV, is more prevalent among people with compromised immune systems, such as patients with AIDS. In Africa, Jung said, where AIDS is endemic and advanced medical treatment is spotty, Kaposi’s sarcoma causes as many as half of all cancer deaths.
The grant, awarded through the National Cancer Institute, will fund three related projects, led by Jung, Pinghui Feng, associate professor of molecular microbiology and immunology, and Shou-Jiang Gao, professor of molecular microbiology and immunology.
Each project will be assisted by a genetic core, led by Paula Cannon, associate professor of molecular microbiology and immunology, and a virology core, led by Hyera Lee, research assistant professor of molecular microbiology and immunology.
The projects as a whole will examine various biochemical and immunological aspects of how KSHV eludes and manipulates the human immune system to persist indefinitely within the body — and how it initiates the growth of Kaposi’s sarcoma.
At present, Jung said, KSHV and other herpesviruses are especially difficult to attack medically.
“Herpes is forever. We cannot get rid of it, and it stays with us until we die because the virus has a number of ways to establish a persistent infection,” he said. “We hope our research will become the cornerstone of vaccine development and antiviral therapy.”