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Inquiry in Action

Taking Aim at a Global Health Threat

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Seattle Children’s lands a major NIH grant to take a multi-pronged look at how the virus that causes Kaposi’s sarcoma spreads and turns cancerous.

Tim Rose2 A team of researchers led by Dr. Tim Rose landed a five-year, $7.4 million program project grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study Kaposi’s sarcoma herpes virus (KSHV) in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Kaposi’s sarcoma, which is caused by KSHV, was recognized as one of the first clinical manifestations of HIV and today remains the most common AIDS-associated malignancy. Rose notes that it is one of the most common pediatric cancers in Africa and has become the most common cancer in the general population in many parts of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Rose and others on the research team — including Dr. Michael Lagunoff from the University of Washington, Drs. Serge Barcy and Soren Gantt of Seattle Children’s and Dr. Corey Casper from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center — played key roles in the discovery and characterization of KSHV and related viruses in non-human primates, and in the role of the oral environment in the acquisition and transmission of the virus. Rose discovered a macaque version of KSHV while working with primates at the University of Washington and developed a model of how this virus spread in that population.

Several facets, one common theme

In this new project, Rose will focus on how the virus is transmitted to cells in the oral cavity, and how the infection then spreads to nearby tissues. Lagunoff will look at how KSHV induces Kaposi’s sarcoma tumor growth. Barcy and Gantt will study the immune responses that control oral and systemic KSHV infection, and how HIV impairs these responses. Together, these projects will attemptDr. Serge Barcy to determine the clinical relevance of the findings by collaborating with Casper at the Uganda Program on Cancer and Infectious Diseases, a joint venture with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the Uganda Cancer Institute.

Study participants will include those infected with the virus, those who are HIV positive and those who do not have HIV. Kids and adults enrolled in the study will donate blood and saliva samples. Many tonsillectomies are performed at the hospital in Uganda, so the team will also examine discarded tonsils because Rose estimates that up to 50% may be from kids with KSHV.

A milestone for the research institute

“Receiving a program project grant from the NIH is an important milestone that underscores the burgeoning strength of the Seattle Children’s Research Institute,” says Dr. Bruder Stapleton, Children’s chief academic officer. “A project like this requires a critical mass of scientists focused on similar goals. We have matured to the point where we can compete for this type of grant on the federal level. It speaks volumes about Dr. Rose and what he and his team are capable of contributing and accomplishing.”

“Receiving a program project grant is an important milestone that underscores the burgeoning strength of the Seattle Children’s Research Institute. A project like this requires a critical mass of scientists focused on similar goals. We have matured to the point where we can compete for this type of grant on the federal level.” ~ Dr. Bruder Stapleton