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Rajesh Panigrahi to investigate new approach for Epstein-Barr-Virus-associated cancer prevention

UMass Medical School Communications

June 08, 2017

A two-year grant to develop a virus-like particle (VLP) vaccine for prevention of Epstein-Barr Virus-associated cancers has been awarded to Rajesh Panigrahi, PhD, a postdoctoral research associate in the lab of Joyce Fingeroth, MD, professor of medicine.

The $100,000 grant comes from the Prevent Cancer Foundation, which specializes in supporting cancer prevention research, education, outreach and advocacy nationwide and has played a pivotal role in developing a body of knowledge for prevention and early detection strategies.

“Global improvements in screening and vaccination have led to dramatic declines in malignancies caused by many human tumor viruses,” said Dr. Panigrahi. “Paradoxically, the incidence of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)-associated tumors, a major cause of cancer, including cancers of children and adolescents, has grown. In addition to cancers of the hematopoietic system, EBV is detected in 100 percent of nasopharyngeal carcinomas, 10 percent of gastric cancers and possibly a subset of breast and other epithelial cell malignancies.”

Although current treatment strategy is usually based on radiation and/or chemotherapy that target rapidly proliferating cells, responses to all current forms of therapy are variable, short and long-term side effects are common, and mortality remains high.

“A better option is to prevent EBV-associated cancers,” says Panigrahi. “To eliminate infection and cancer, our goal is to develop an EBV vaccine that safely stimulates protective immunity. Though weakened viruses often make superior vaccines, tumor viruses such those that cause EBV-associated cancers are considered dangerous and single protein vaccines often fail to elicit strong immunity. By contrast, virus-like particles form repetitive protein units that do elicit a strong immune response.”

The research will investigate whether EBV-directed stimulation of immunity by a VLP-based vaccine will prevent EBV infection or will limit spread within the persistently infected host and decreasing the number of EBV-infected cells at risk of progressing to cancer.

The Prevent Cancer Foundation is the only U.S. nonprofit organization solely devoted to cancer prevention and early detection. Prevent Cancer focuses its resources on cancers that can be prevented through lifestyle changes or early detection, when treatment is more likely to be successful. Since its founding in 1985, the Prevent Cancer Foundation has invested $142 million in support of cancer prevention research, education, outreach and advocacy.