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New research offers hope for Kaposi’s sarcoma

New research published by Worldwide Cancer Research scientist Professor Adrian Whitehouse and his team points to a potential new way to prevent the rare cancer Kaposi’s sarcoma. Their work is published in the journal Nature Microbiology this week.

Kaposi’s sarcoma appears as localised tumours which affect the skin and internal organs. It develops in some people, especially those with weakened immune systems, following infection with a virus called KSHV. Kaposi’s is controllable through palliative treatment, but it remains incurable, and there is currently no form of antiviral treatment or vaccine to fight KSHV.

Now Professor Whitehouse and colleagues at the University of Leeds think they have found a new way to tackle KSHV and other similar viruses. The researchers found that the viruses hijack a group of human proteins, called TREX, and use them to replicate inside our cells. Using this knowledge, they were then able to identify a new compound which blocks the interaction of the virus and TREX proteins.

The researchers will now focus on taking the potential new treatment from the lab bench to clinical studies in humans.

“We still have a lot of work to do,” said Dr Richard Foster, who’s group collaborated on the work, “but bringing together a target point and a compound is a significant finding. Now our job is to improve the quality and potency of the compound before it can operate as a future antiviral drug.”


“The funding of a postdoctoral research scientist allowed the identification of an essential virus-host interaction, which we have since gone on to target using small molecule inhibitors. Preventing this virus-host cell interaction stops the human tumour virus, Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus, replicating and causing disease”.

As well as blocking KSHV the researchers also found the compound could be active against a number of related viruses, meaning the potentially new antiviral might be effective not just against KSHV, but could also be used to treat a range of herpesvirus-associated conditions, from cold sores to congenital infections in newborn babies.

“Professor Whitehouse and his team have discovered a potential way of preventing the rare, but devastating, Kaposi’s sarcoma from developing.” Explains Dr Lynn Turner, Head of Research at Worldwide Cancer Research. “Their findings not only offer hope for those who are at risk of developing this disease but also to millions of others infected by similar viruses. It’s exactly this kind of discovery research that needs to be supported in order to pave the way for advances in cancer research and biomedical research in general.”

Some text for this article was adapted from a University of Leeds press release, read the full article here.

The full scientific article reference is: Sophie Schumann, Brian R. Jackson, Ian Yule, Steven K. Whitehead, Charlotte Revill, Richard Foster, Adrian Whitehouse. Targeting the ATP-dependent formation of herpesvirus ribonucleoprotein particle assembly as an antiviral approach. Nature Microbiology, 2016; 2: 16201 DOI: 10.1038/nmicrobiol.2016.201. Find the scientific paper online here.

This research was supported by Worldwide Cancer Research, Wellcome Trust, and Biotechnology and Biosciences Research Council.

Image courtesy of University of Leeds. 

Further information

We have funded Professor Whitehouse’s work on Kaposi’s since 2012. Read about his work with us here and here.

Search our other Kaposi’s sarcoma projects here.