Kaposi’s Sarcoma is a cancer caused by a human herpes virus and is widespread in sub-Saharan Africa, where it is the most common cause of cancer amongst those infected with HIV.
Researchers from Leeds’ Faculty of Biological Sciences found that a human protein – known as PYM – is hijacked by the virus to help it replicate. A virus-encoded protein, ORF57, interacts with PYM and when this interaction was blocked during molecular experiments, the virus was unable to replicate. The findings are published today in The EMBO Journal.
“This is the first time that the cellular protein, PYM, has been shown to play a role in virus replication and Kaposi’s Sarcoma,” explains Dr Adrian Whitehouse, who led the research. “Our work is still at a very early stage, but it should in time be possible to design drugs which block the interaction between PYM and the virus protein, thereby stopping the virus replicating and hopefully stopping the cancer from developing.”
Kaposi’s Sarcoma-associated herpesvirus is an opportunistic infection which is most prevalent amongst people with a weakened immune system, such as those infected with HIV. Treatment for KS does exist but currently involves chemotherapy and highly active antiretroviral therapy which is both toxic and not always effective. Moreover, such combined therapies are only available to a small percentage of those affected in sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the developing world.
The researchers – funded by the Wellcome Trust and BBSRC – are now looking to obtain the structure of these two interacting proteins, as the next step towards designing an anti-viral drug to combat the disease.
Notes to Editors
- This research is published online in The EMBO Journal, in a paper entitled: Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus ORF57 protein interacts with PYM to enhance translation of viral intronless mRNAs. http://www.nature.com/emboj/journal/vaop/ncurrent/abs/emboj201077a.html
- Dr Adrian Whitehouse is a BBSRC research development fellow in the Faculty of Biological Sciences at the University of Leeds.
- The Faculty of Biological Sciences at the University of Leeds is one of the largest in the UK, with over 150 academic staff and over 400 postdoctoral fellows and postgraduate students. The Faculty is ranked 4th in the UK (Nature Journal, 457 (2009) doi :10.1038/457013a) based on results of the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). The RAE feedback noted that “virtually all outputs were assessed as being recognized internationally, with many (60%) being internationally excellent or world-leading” in quality. The Faculty’s research grant portfolio totals some £60M and funders include charities, research councils, the European Union and industry. www.fbs.leeds.ac.uk
- The 2008 Research Assessment Exercise showed the University of Leeds to be the UK’s eighth biggest research powerhouse. The University is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK and a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. The University’s vision is to secure a place among the world’s top 50 by 2015. www.leeds.ac.uk
- The Wellcome Trust is a global charity dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. It supports the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. The Trust’s breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. It is independent of both political and commercial interests. www.wellcome.ac.uk
- Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
BBSRC is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £450 million in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life in the UK and beyond and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders, including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.
BBSRC provides institute strategic research grants to the following:
The Babraham Institute, Institute for Animal Health, Institute for Biological, Environmental and Rural Studies (Aberystwyth University), Institute of Food Research, John Innes Centre, The Genome Analysis Centre, The Roslin Institute (University of Edinburgh) and Rothamsted Research. The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research. www.bbsrc.ac.uk