CIDRI-Africa welcomed Dr Georgia Schäfer as a Contributing Investigator in mid-2020. Her particular research interest is in the host-pathogen interactions of Kaposi’s sarcoma herpesvirus (KSHV) and human papillomavirus (HPV). Both viruses are associated with AIDS-defining malignancies.
Georgia leads a research group at the ICGEB Cape Town “Virology – Emerging Viruses” which focuses on oncogenic viruses relevant in the sub-Saharan African context where there is a high HIV burden. Her long-term aims include the development of novel preventative and diagnostic tools through both basic laboratory-based studies as well as clinical studies involving national and international collaborations.
Her group has discovered previously undescribed molecules that modulate early events during HPV infection, such as vimentin1 and surfactant protein A2. The group has also identified genetic variants of the KSHV entry receptor (EPHA2) that were associated with susceptibility to KSHV infection and Kaposi’s sarcoma prevalence in a South African HIV-infected patient cohort3. Additionally, they recently found that elevated KSHV viral load in the blood was associated with mortality in critically ill HIV-infected patients with suspected tuberculosis4. Together, these findings provide opportunities for future research targeting viral entry to prevent KSHV or HPV-associated cancers, and for developing novel diagnostics for virus-associated cancers in high HIV burden settings.
In response to the recent COVID-19 outbreak, Georgia’s group has supported the Faculty of Health Sciences at UCT in setting up a diagnostic pipeline to ramp up national SARS-CoV-2 testing capacity. She has also rapidly developed a research programme focused on elucidating and targeting SARS-CoV-2 entry mechanisms with the aim of developing cost-effective preventative treatments for possible future seasonal coronavirus outbreaks.
2. Ujma S, Carse S, Chetty A, et al. Surfactant Protein A impairs genital HPV16 pseudovirus infection by innate immune cell activation in a murine model. Pathogens 2019; 8(4) 288
3. Blumenthal MJ, Schutz C, Meintjes G, et al. EPHA2 sequence variants are associated with susceptibility to Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus infection and Kaposi's sarcoma prevalence in HIV-infected patients. Cancer Epidemiology 2018; 56: 133-9