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UNC-Led Consortium to Study HIV-Related Cancers in Sub-Saharan Africa

August 24, 2020
School of Medicine

A team of UNC researchers is partnering with colleagues at four institutions in Africa to study HIV-associated malignancies. With a five-year, $6 million grant from the NIH’s National Cancer Institute, the research consortium will look at screening and diagnosing innovations for three cancers common to people with HIV: Kaposi sarcoma, cervical cancer and lymphoma.

Leading the consortium is virologist Blossom Damania, Boshamer Distinguished Professor of Microbiology and Immunology, UNC School of Medicine, co-leader of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Tumor Virology Program and vice dean for research at UNC School of Medicine. Joining her as key investigators are:

  • Dirk Dittmer, professor of microbiology and immunology, UNC School of Medicine, and co-director, Program in Global Oncology, UNC Lineberger;
  • Yuri Fedoriw, LabCorp Distinguished Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, UNC School of Medicine, co-director of UNC Project-Malawi Cancer Program, director of global cancer pathology, Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases (IGHID);
  • Carla Chibwesha, associate professor of OB-GYN, UNC School of Medicine, head of UNC Global Women’s Health South Africa Program, and visiting faculty at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), South Africa;
  • Sam Phiri, professor of medicine and executive director of Lighthouse Trust at Kamuzu Central Hospital, Malawi; and
  • Paul Ruff, professor and head of medical oncology, Wits University.

The new consortium, UMSACC, brings the investigators together with colleagues at four sites in Africa known for cancer and HIV research: the Institute’s UNC Project-Malawi in Lilongwe, Malawi; Lighthouse Trust, Malawi; Stellenbosch University in Cape Town, South Africa; and University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.

The National Cancer Institute is targeting sub-Saharan Africa because the region has the world’s highest prevalence of HIV as well as HIV-related cancers. “Individuals all over the globe are afflicted with these cancers, but individuals with HIV are at much increased risk to get these particular cancers,” Damania says. “Studying these malignancies in Africa, where their incidence is highly elevated, allows us to learn more about these cancers. We can then apply this knowledge to help individuals who get these cancers all over the world, including in Africa and the U.S. What we learn globally, helps us locally.”

Pairing Institute researchers in Malawi and South Africa with UNC cancer researchers represents “a true partnership between UNC’s Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases and Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center,” says Institute Director Myron Cohen, “thanks to our deep investment in global research on both HIV and cancer. We have worked with many of these partners in Africa for over 20 years and have collaborated with them on multiple projects and publications. “

“By supporting project development and key infrastructure, IGHID and Lineberger continue to launch the careers of the next generation of dedicated clinician scientists and oncology caregivers who are advancing the field of global oncology in Africa,” says Shelley Earp, director of UNC Lineberger.

Read more on the School of Medicine’s website.

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