It is estimated that ~20% of all cancers are caused by oncogenic viruses. We study the Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV), also known as the human herpesvirus 8 (HHV8). KSHV is known to cause several malignancies and lymphoproliferative disorders in the context of immunosuppression (e.g. in people living with HIV/AIDS). Two of these major KSHV-associated cancers are Kaposi’s sarcoma (KS) and the aggressive primary effusion lymphoma (PEL), both of which are considered to be AIDS-defining cancers. To date, no vaccines or drugs have been approved to prevent or treat these diseases.
Our lab aims to understand the molecular mechanisms of viral oncogenesis by KSHV using both molecular and genome-wide approaches. Areas of specific interest include:
Viral factors involved in the survival and proliferation of tumor cells. While the KSHV genome encodes >100 genes, only a subset of these viral genes has been directly studied in the context of PEL. We are using CRISPR screens to systematically interrogate the contributions of coding and non-coding viral transcripts in the survival of PEL tumor cells in a high throughput manner.
PEL-specific oncogenic dependencies. We previously demonstrated that PEL cell lines are addicted to the expression of 210 cellular genes called PEL-specific oncogenic dependencies (Nature Communications, 2018). We are investigating the functions of these PSODs in altering cellular metabolism, cell biology and promoting viral latency and genome maintenance.
July 2021 – Logan Moorhead, a recent graduate from the University of Georgia, joined our team as a research technician.