Soren Gantt, MD, PhD: Assistant Professor of Pediatric Infectious Diseases. One focus of Dr. Gantt’s research is human herpesvirus 8 (HHV-8), the cause of Kaposi’s sarcoma (KS). KS is the most common cancer in many parts of Africa, including Uganda, where nearly everyone is infected with HHV-8 by adulthood.
Dr. Gantt, along with Dr. Corey Casper and colleagues, is following Ugandan children from birth to determine when HHV-8 infection is acquired. The natural history of primary HHV-8 infection is then evaluated in these children with respect to clinical illness, viral replication patterns, and the development of immune responses. In addition, Dr. Gantt has shown that some drugs used to suppress HIV infection have previously unrecognized activity against HHV-8 replication in vitro. As such, Dr. Gantt is investigating the ability of specific antiretroviral therapy regimens to inhibit HHV-8 replication and their potential to reduce KS incidence among people co-infected with HIV and HHV-8.
In collaboration with Dr. Lisa Frenkel, Dr. Gantt is studying the mechanisms by which infants become infected with HIV through breast milk in Zimbabwe. Breastfeeding now accounts for the majority of mother-to-child HIV transmission, a problem that is complicated by the lack of safe infant feeding options in much of Africa, where HIV prevalence is highest. Drs. Gantt and Frenkel have shown that mastitis, or inflammation of the breast, markedly increases the amount of HIV in breast milk. Furthermore, they discovered that HIV in breast milk is strongly correlated with replication of cytomegalovirus and Epstein-Barr virus, two ubiquitous human herpes group viruses. Ongoing studies are aimed at understanding the role of the infant immune response in the risk of HIV acquisition during breastfeeding.