Cancer Initiation and Progression

Cancer progression

LSU LCMC Health Cancer Center’s Cancer Initiation and Progression Research aims to discover how viruses and other environmental factors initiate and participate in cancer. By defining  what causes, promotes or exacerbates various types of cancer, we expand our understanding of the spectrum of cancer, including its development and disease progression.

Through the understanding we gather from basic and clinical research on cancers with viral causes, we can translate these findings into targeted approaches, such as vaccines to prevent viral infections and limit the risk of viral associated cancer development or innovative therapeutic approaches to treat those who are already infected — all directly benefiting patients in Louisiana and globally. 

Cancer Initiation and Progression Research in Practice
There are several viruses that cause cancer in humans, but not all who are infected, in fact only a small fraction, will develop cancer as a result. Our research places efforts toward all the viruses that cause cancers, but specifically focuses on cancers associated with HIV co-infection. HIV does not directly cause cancer, but in individuals infected with a known cancer virus, it contributes to a substantially increased risk due to immune defects that are associated with HIV infection. 

As major contributors to the Cancer Initiation and Progression Research team, Dr. Charles Wood and Dr. John T. West are investigating connections between HIV and cancers, and doing so comparatively in populations in Africa that have higher incidence rates of both diseases, as well as in similar populations from southern Louisiana. For instance, more than 25 million people are living with HIV/AIDS in Africa out of 38 million globally. 

Dr. Wood began this work in the 1990s while studying the transmission of HIV from mothers to infants. During his research, he found that transmission of Kaposi’s sarcoma herpesvirus (KSHV) also transmits mother to child, primarily through saliva. KSHV causes a relatively rare cancer found in particular ethnic groups and geographic areas of high infection rate, but the cancer is most common in individuals with a suppressed or weakened immune system like  those undergoing organ transplant or those living with HIV infection. Dr. West joined Dr. Wood in Africa in 2001 to continue this groundbreaking research centered around sub Saharan African patients.

Since then, Dr. Wood and Dr. West have established a large collaborative research endeavor involving multiple US research institutions, the University of Zambia School of Medicine, and the Ocean Road Cancer Center in Tanzania, that focuses on HIV and Kaposi’s sarcoma, including its transmission, treatment, and prevention. 

While this research and outcomes have been extensive, it is just a window into the impacts it can have on cancer research. By continuing to identify the links between HIV and cancer, more connections can be discovered, advancing cancer research at large. 

A More Than Medicine Approach to Cancer Care

LSU LCMC Health Cancer Center research on cancer initiation and progression focuses on the causes and development of the disease, which can include: 

  • Genetic predispositions
  • Lifestyle factors, such as diet, exercise, and drug and alcohol use
  • Co-infections, including polymicrobial infections 

By understanding more about these causes of cancer, we can find cancer in its early stages and prevent it altogether. 

Looking Ahead in Cancer Initiation and Progression

Cancer initiation and progression research at LSU LCMC Health Cancer Center will continue to focus on global oncology and health. By engaging with communities around the world — such as in other parts of Africa (including Tanzania, Zambia, and Uganda) — we can determine why certain populations have a higher risk of developing cancer. 

Dr. Wood and Dr. West also have plans to develop programs that will send clinical or research fellows overseas where the infrastructure is already built so they can develop their own research interests and collaborations. This collaboration will directly benefit patient care by advancing our understanding of how to prevent, treat, and cure cancer.  



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