PHILADELPHIA — The National Cancer Institute has awarded $10.3 million over five years to a group of Penn researchers to investigate the early events of Kaposi’s sarcoma associated herpesvirus infection and its implication for developing therapeutics in treating associated cancers.

Erle S. Robertson Ph.D., professor of Microbiology, at the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, heads the team of Penn faculty who will be conducting the research.

“This funding comes at an opportune time when funding is extremely limited from the NIH and provides support to pursue a difficult area of research not previously explored due to lack of funding or difficulty in obtaining funding,” says Robertson. “The program will explore the early events after infection with the oncogenic herpesvirus in primary cells and allows for breakthroughs which are likely to be fundamental to our understanding of the events that lead to a successful infection which goes on to a transformed state.”

Kaposi’s sarcoma associated herpesvirus (KSHV) is associated with a number of human cancers, in particular AIDS associated Kaposi sarcoma (KS) and pleural effusion lymphomas, as well as Multicentric Castlemen’s Disease.

KSHV was identified 15 years ago and has been tackled mostly on a level of the individual investigator. This award brings together three groups of investigators, which includes Paul Lieberman, PhD (The Wistar Institute) and Yan Yuan, PhD (Penn Dental School), within the Penn community to join their scientific expertise to address the mechanism of KSHV-mediated oncogenesis.

The overall goal is to investigate the mechanism of viral control by encoded antigens during the early stages of infection of primary B cells. The fundamental cellular processes targeted during these early stages will provide new information as to the strict requirements for successful establishment of latency by the virus.

The success of these projects will allow for a more comprehensive view of KSHV infection and pathogenesis and provide new clues for the development of strategies to prevent and treat KSHV associated cancers, endemic and in the HIV population.

In addition, the accumulation of new information on KSHV biology will be critical for the broader area of herpesvirus biology to gain insights into the mechanism of oncogenesis associated with other viruses, including Epstein Barr virus.

Penn Medicine is one of the world's leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $5.3 billion enterprise.

The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top five medical schools in the United States for the past 18 years, according to U.S. News & World Report's survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $373 million awarded in the 2015 fiscal year.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System's patient care facilities include: The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center -- which are recognized as one of the nation's top "Honor Roll" hospitals by U.S. News & World Report -- Chester County Hospital; Lancaster General Health; Penn Wissahickon Hospice; and Pennsylvania Hospital -- the nation's first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional affiliated inpatient care facilities and services throughout the Philadelphia region include Chestnut Hill Hospital and Good Shepherd Penn Partners, a partnership between Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network and Penn Medicine.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2015, Penn Medicine provided $253.3 million to benefit our community.

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