ICGEB Cape Town Dr Georgia Schäfer awarded South African Medical Research Council funding – Self-Initiated Research Grants Programme

ICGEB Cape Town Group Leader, Dr Georgia Schäfer, Virology – Emerging Viruses Group, has been awarded funding from the South African Medical Research Council  as part of the Self-Initiated Research Grants Programme.

Dr Schäfer’s study is on Understanding Kaposi’s Sarcoma Herpes Virus (KSHV) lytic reactivation and associated cancer development in the context of Covid-19.

Dr Schäfer explains, ‘The outbreak of SARS-CoV2, the causative agent of Covid-19, has globally infected over 400 million people to date, causing mild to severe respiratory and systematic symptoms. While several known co-morbidities increase the risk of fatal disease outcome, the impact of co-infection with oncogenic viruses for long-term cancer risk is unknown.

KSHV is the causative agent of Kaposi’s Sarcoma, the commonest AIDS-related malignancy. This is of high relevance in Sub-Saharan Africa, where co-infection with KSHV and HIV is high. Although KSHV infections are relatively well controlled in Anti-Retroviral Therapy-compliant patients, it is unknown whether co-infection with SARS-CoV2 may reverse this effect, leading to lytic reactivation of KSHV in latently infected individuals.

This study will assess the risk of KSHV lytic reactivation in the context of SARS-CoV2 infection, both in vitro using KSHV/SARS-CoV2 infected cell lines as well as clinically by studying the outcome of HIV/KSHV/SARS-CoV2-infected patients’.

Commenting on the benefit of her research to South African patients, Dr Schäfer explains that given the high KSHV seroprevalence in the South African population, it is of great interest to determine whether co-infection with SARS-CoV2 triggers KSHV lytic reactivation from latency and promote KSHV-associated pathologies. The proposed study is therefore designed to assess the risk of KSHV-associated oncogenesis in the context of Covid-19 on both a clinical and a molecular level and to characterize molecular key players involved in KSHV lytic reactivation that can be potentially targeted.