VIROLOGY PROGRAM Approximately 20% of all cancers result from infectious agents, with the majority of these malignancies being virus-associated cancers. The Virology Program (VIR) focuses on deciphering the basic mechanisms by which human tumor viruses are linked to the development of malignancy. The long-term goal of VIR is to understand viral perturbation sufficiently to generate new therapies, including small molecules, biologics, and vaccines that target viruses and viral cancers.
The aims for VIR are focused on five research areas. These include understanding: (i) Viruses and Immunity (ii) Virus-Cell Interactions (iii) Viral Pathogenesis and Tumorigenesis (iv) Cancers impacted by HIV infection, and (v) Clinical & Translational Virology, which includes gene therapy, immune therapy and global oncology. Recent discoveries include the finding that virus-infected cells secrete exosomes or extracellular vesicles, which modulate the tumor environment, and the discovery that viral- encoded microRNAs contribute to the development of neoplasms. Additional findings focus on the modulation of innate immune signaling pathways by oncogenic viruses, epigenetic modifications in the context of viral cancers, and development of new therapies for AIDS-associated cancers. VIR also provides the scientific underpinnings of the UNC Lineberger Global Oncology effort, which is tightly integrated with other NCI- designated cancer centers, NCI-funded collaborative groups including the AIDS Malignancy Consortium in the US and Africa, and the NIH global research agenda. There are 23 program members from 10 different departments across campus. These faculty investigators have 39 research grants and $9.7 million (direct costs) in annual extramural support including $2.4 million from NCI and $5.5 million from other peer and other NIH. Members authored a total of 407 cancer-relevant publications during the past 5 years; 13% were intra- programmatic, and 16% were inter-programmatic. VIR is the administrative home of LCCC viral vector/gene therapy efforts and based on overlapping biology is working closely with the Immunology (IMM) research program. LCCC?s humanized mouse program is led by Victor Garcia?s work in VIR. There are extremely accomplished investigators in VIR including Dr. Jack Griffith, elected to the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Raab-Traub, National Cancer Advisory Board member, and Dr. Damania who serves on the NCI Board of Scientific Counselors. Research in VIR is informed by the Office of Community Outreach and Engagement particularly with respect to HPV-associated cancers with an emphasis on translational studies related to human papilloma virus (HPV) including recruitment of new faculty and investment of pilot funding. HPV-associated cervical and oral cancers are of particular interest to LCCC as the incidence of HPV-associated cervical and oral cancer in our catchment area exceeds the national average.
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