Research collaboration launched in South Africa to study Kaposi sarcoma

UNC Lineberger's Dirk Dittmer, PhD, has launched a collaboration with researchers in South Africa to investigate the biology of Kaposi sarcoma, a cancer caused by a herpes virus and associated with infection with HIV.

Research collaboration launched in South Africa to study Kaposi sarcoma click to enlarge Dirk Dittmer, PhD, is co-director of UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center’s global oncology and virology programs and a professor in the UNC School of Medicine Department of Microbiology and Immunology.

The UNC School of Medicine has entered into a research collaboration with the department of pathology at Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg Hospital near Cape Town, South Africa.  The overall goal is to develop standardized pathology procedures and to investigate the biology of Kaposi Sarcoma and other solid tumors. These are seen infrequently at the N.C. Cancer Hospital but at much greater numbers at Tygerberg Hospital. In case of Kaposi Sarcoma, no new treatment has emerged in the past 15 years.

Tygerberg Hospital is a tertiary hospital and, with its nearly 1,900-bed capacity, it is the second largest hospital in South Africa. Stellenbosch University is among the top 10 public research universities in Africa and the oldest university in South Africa.  UNC already has an ongoing undergraduate student exchange program with Stellenbosch University and the UNC School of Medicine’s Center for Bioethics operates a training program funded by the NIH Fogarty International Center.

The current project is funded by a bi-national US-South Africa grant from the National Cancer Institute to Johann Schneider, PhD, head of the Department of Pathology at Stellenbosch University, and Dirk Dittmer, PhD, co-director of UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center’s global oncology and virology programs and a professor in the UNC School of Medicine Department of Microbiology and Immunology.

Central to the scientific objective is the production of tumor tissue microarrays, each containing hundreds of samples, for histochemical and genomic studies. The first arrays are being analyzed simultaneously at UNC Lineberger and Stellenbosch. This will establish the degree of concordance, or agreement, in the interpretation of the results.  Marcia Sanders, leader of the UNC Vironomics core has spent three months at Stellenbosch to assess local capabilities and coordinate experimental procedures. “I think this is the beginning of beautiful cooperation that will benefit patients at UNC and at Stellenbosch equally,” says Dittmer.