In the early days of the AIDS epidemic, a once-rare form of cancer known as Kaposi's sarcoma (KS) emerged as a frequent harbinger of HIV. Its stigma was best illustrated by Tom Hanks, who portrayed a gay man trying to conceal the cancerous skin lesions from his co-workers in the 1993 movie "Philadelphia."
A few years after the movie's release, Fanxiu Zhu was a young virologist searching for a postdoctoral position. He found one, in Philadelphia, at a university laboratory investigating a newly identified virus linked to KS.
Today, Zhu is an assistant professor at Florida State University and a nationally recognized expert on KS. This spring, he won a new, five-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that will support the continuation of his widely published work, which could contribute to the development of more effective drug therapies.
"Kaposi's sarcoma has become the defining symptom of AIDS, so studying the virus that causes KS is obviously important for understanding AIDS and AIDS-related cancers," Zhu said.
Already Zhu's body of research has generated findings that may speed the development of more effective, targeted therapies for KS, which is caused by a human cancer virus now known as human herpesvirus 8 (HHV-8) or KS-associated herpesvirus (KSHV).
Zhu has become a leader in the study of KSHV by focusing on viral proteins that he and his Florida State research team have identified as crucial to the life cycle of the virus.
The protein they study extensively is called ORF45, short for "open reading frame 45." Zhu and his team found that the ORF45 protein has a wide variety of functions in infection.
"In fact, Dr. Zhu has discovered that the protein is 'packaged' with each new virus, meaning that it is present when a virus infects a new cell," said biologist P. Bryant Chase, chairman of FSU's Department of Biological Science.
"Infectious agents and infec
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Florida State University