UNC scientist finds chief AIDS cancer needs trauma and virus to get started

CHAPEL HILL -- Kaposis sarcoma, the most common cancer that develops as people with the HIV virus progress to full-blown AIDS, appears to require some kind of trauma such as a cut or comparable injury to get started, a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill scientist has discovered.

We found that there are at least three key elements central to development of this important cancer, said Dr. Jennifer Webster-Cyriaque, assistant professor of dental ecology and microbiology at the UNC schools of dentistry and medicine.

One is suppression of the immune system, which HIV causes. The second is the presence of human herpesvirus 8, or HHV8, which Dr. Yuan Chang and her husband Dr. Peter Moore of Columbia University discovered in 1994. And the third, which is new, is trauma after which the healing process begins to take place.

Webster-Cyriaques report on the findings appears in the current (April 18) issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

What apparently happened to kick-start Kaposis sarcoma in one of her patients was that the natural healing process called in certain cells to help restore the damaged tissue, she said. But since those cells already were infected with the cancer-causing HHV8, that caused a malignancy to develop.

The report describes a 38-year-old HIV-positive patient participating in a UNC study of HIV-associated salivary gland disease. Researchers collected blood and throat secretions from the man and, in minor surgery, removed a tiny amount of salivary gland tissue for analysis.

The biopsy went fine, and we found the HHV8 virus in his throat washings, but not in his blood or salivary glands, Webster-Cyriaque said.

Several days after the biopsy, he came back with a significant lesion growing inside his lip at the biopsy site, she said. We sent him home with antibiotics to make sure the growth didnt become super-infected, but it continued to grow and soon extended outward to his chin

Contact: David Williamson
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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