Keck School of Medicine of USC announced last week that researchers discovered a stem cell that can be used as an effective cell model to study the virus that causes Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus, the most common type of cancer AIDS patients can contract.
Before the discovery, there was no viable cell model that scientists could infect with the virus and still keep it living to study its transformation into a cancerous cell, according to Shou-Jiang Gao, head researcher and a professor of molecular microbiology and immunology.
“We now have an in vitro cell culture model and in vivo tumor model that allow us to dissect the molecular mechanism by which KSHV manipulates the cellular pathways leading to the development of KSHV-induced malignancies,” Gao said.
KSHV causes blood vessel tumors, which cause noticeable red spots that look like rashes on the skin. Treatments for KSHV include surgery to remove the tumors, chemotherapy or antiviral drugs.
According to Gao, researchers at Keck have been working on this project for several years and have been screening primary cell types, including those from humans, mice and rats.
Keck will use this model to study several characteristics of KSHV and to find a better cure. With this new cell model, researchers will be able to study viral genes and cellular pathways that KSHV targets. Researchers will also be able to identify new therapeutic viral and cellular targets for KSHV-induced malignancies and conduct preclinical studies to test new therapeutic approaches for KSHV-induced malignancies. KSHV has become an increasingly dangerous disease for patients affected with AIDS, Gao said.
Before the AIDS epidemic, KSHV rarely occurred in the United States with an infection rate of two out of every million, according to the American Cancer Society. It is now estimated that a person infected by HIV has a 20,000 times greater risk of developing KSHV compared to people who do not have HIV.
With the development of new treatments for AIDS in the United States, KSHV now occurs at a rate of about seven cases per million people. Men can get KSHV much easier than women, and it is rarely seen in children. It is also more common in the United States for African Americans to contract the disease than Caucasians, according to the American Cancer Society.