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University Of Pittsburgh Recruits Team Who Discovered Virus Linked To Most Common Cancer Among AIDS Patients

PITTSBURGH, May 1, 2002 — The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine has appointed Patrick S. Moore, M.D., M.P.H., to a faculty position as professor, department of molecular genetics and biochemistry, and Yuan Chang, M.D., professor, department of pathology.

Drs. Moore and Chang, who are married, come to the University of Pittsburgh from Columbia University where they discovered Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpes virus (KSHV), also called human herpes virus 8 (HHV8). KSHV, which causes Kaposi's sarcoma, the most common malignancy occurring in AIDS patients, also is linked to other disorders that involve a compromised immune system.

"Dr. Moore and Dr. Chang are both extremely talented scientists who have made a seminal contribution to our understanding of the link between viruses and cancer," said Arthur S. Levine, M.D., senior vice chancellor, health sciences, and dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. "Their expertise in developing new techniques for DNA sampling to discover pathogens that cause chronic diseases will help us better understand the development and progression of such diseases. Their achievement also has very promising implications for the creation of diagnostic tests to screen for hitherto unrecognized viral agents and the subsequent development of effective therapies to treat the illnesses that they may cause.

"The appointments of Dr. Moore and Dr. Chang build on Art Levine's amazing record in recruiting world-class medical researchers to the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine," added University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg. "Their appointments reflect the University's strong commitment to innovative biomedical research that has enabled us to appoint a series of extremely gifted researchers to the School of Medicine."

The research undertaken by Drs. Moore and Chang centers on the discovery of new pathogens through the use of novel methods for sorting and amplifying gene fragments. Using this strategy, Drs. Moore and Chang discovered that KSHV, a previously unknown virus, belongs to the family of herpes viruses. Kaposi's sarcoma (KS), a disease in which cancer cells are found in the tissues under the skin or mucous membranes, can be very aggressive in people whose immune systems are suppressed. Prior to this discovery, scientists had worked for 20 years to find an infectious agent associated with KS. KSHV is one of only a handful of viruses linked so far to cancer in humans. This group also includes the human papilloma virus (cervical cancer), the Epstein-Barr virus (Burkitt's lymphoma) and hepatitis B (hepatoma).

According to Drs. Moore and Chang, they will be continuing and expanding their research at the University of Pittsburgh to answer fundamental questions about how and why some viruses cause tumors.

"Over 95 percent of people infected with KSHV do not have symptoms of disease and never will because the immune system of healthy adults keeps the virus in check at extremely low levels; however, once exposed to KSHV, infection is probably lifelong," commented Dr. Moore, also appointed leader of the molecular virology program at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI). Dr. Moore explained that KSHV can become a problem when an infected person becomes immunosuppressed, which can occur among organ transplant patients and patients undergoing chemotherapy, but is most prominently a problem for people with AIDS.

"In order to develop effective therapies and to gain a basic understanding of cancer, we need to know why some viruses like KSHV evolve to cause cancers while others cause nothing worse than the common cold," said Dr. Chang. "To answer this question, we will be doing detective work by examining the molecular biology or 'genetic footprints' associated with apparent infectious diseases to discover the organisms that cause them. We are pleased to apply this method to the work we will be doing at the University of Pittsburgh, where there already exists a rich tradition of medical research in the field of immunology."

"Dr. Moore and Dr. Chang bring expertise from a variety of fields, from pathology and molecular biology to epidemiology," said Ronald Herberman, M.D., director of UPCI and associate vice chancellor for cancer research, University of Pittsburgh. "Their unique expertise as a team will lead to quicker discoveries of other cancer-causing viruses and enable us to learn more about precisely how a virus causes cancer. This, in turn, will lead us closer to developing effective vaccines against viruses, or the cancers associated with them, so that we can enable the immune system to recognize and fight disease."

Drs. Moore and Chang received their medical degrees from the University of Utah College of Medicine. They have published more than 90 articles and reviews in the medical literature and have served on the editorial boards of several journals, including the American Journal of Pathology, the Journal of Virology and Virus Research. They also have received numerous awards, including the Meyenburg Foundation Award for Cancer Research, the Robert Koch Prize and the New York City Mayor's Award for Excellence in Science & Technology.

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