Viral Oncology Section (VOS)


The overall aim of the Viral Oncology Section (VOS) is to study the role of viruses in cancer. Our studies are focused mainly on Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV) and related malignancies. Our approach to research encompasses epidemiology, molecular virology, immunology and translational studies. 

KSHV is a gammaherpesvirus discovered in 1994 that causes Kaposi’s sarcoma, primary effusion lymphoma and multicentric Castleman’s disease. Kaposi’s sarcoma is a notable AIDS-associated cancer which can also occur in HIV negative people. KSHV has a distinct geographic distribution, being very prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa, relatively common in areas of the Mediterranean and rare elsewhere, except for specific ethnic groups and men who have sex with men.

Our current research is grouped into three main project areas:

Project 1: KSHV Epidemiology and Transmission

We are investigating how epidemiology of KSHV is evolving as the HIV epidemics changes. We are currently focusing on three established longitudinal cohorts: The Ugandan General Population Cohort (GPC) in rural Uganda, the AIDS Clinical Trials Group sponsored ACTG Longitudinal Linked Randomized Trials Cohort (ALLRT) and the Multicenter AIDS Cohort (MACS). We are also investigating environmental risk factors for KSHV transmission, acquisition and associated diseases. 

Project 2: KSHV Immunity and Pathogenesis

To investigate the range of immune responses to KSHV and how they influence transmission, disease risk and progression. We performed a systematic study of the serological responses to entire KSHV proteome, identifying new antigens and developing flexible multiplexed bead-based assay. In addition, we have developed tools to investigate the role of microRNA in KSHV-related diseases. Finally, we are characterizing KSHV infected cells in infected people as well as developing model systems for B cell infection in vitro.

Project 3: Viral and Host Genetics in KSHV Infection and Disease

We are investigating the potential role of genetic variation in human genes involved in virus-cell interactions and antiviral immunity in Cameroonians. Furthermore, we are collaborating with domestic and international investigators to perform genome wide association studies. Viral genetic diversity is also an understudied topic with potential pathogenic significance: we are now studying the entire viral genome in lab strains and in samples from diverse populations and patients using NGS approaches. 

To achieve our research goals, we have developed an extensive network of collaborations with investigators throughout the US, Uganda, Cameroon, Kenya, South Africa and elsewhere that have resulted in important capacity building in terms of providing training for local investigators as well as technology transfer.

Complete publications list

Viral Oncology Section Staff

Denise Whitby, Ph.D.Denise Whitby, Ph.D.
Principal Investigator
Phone: 301-846-1714
Fax: 301-846-7119

  • Labo, M. Nazzarena
  • Castro, Elena
  • Marshall, Vickie
  • Miley, Wendell
  • Roshan, Romin
  • Moore, Kyle
  • Jha, Sangana
  • McCann, Brendan
  • Garrett, Landry