An NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center
By Katie Neith | November 10, 2017
David Mulama David Mulama, Ph.D.
A recent recruit to Beckman Research Institute of City of Hope has received a three-year grant from the St. Baldrick's Foundation to support his work on a vaccine for Kaposi sarcoma (KS). David Mulama, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral fellow who joined the lab of Javier Gordon Ogembo, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Experimental Therapeutics, in August. His $330,000 award will help advance his goal of developing a diagnosis and prevention method for fighting pediatric KS in his home country of Kenya.

KS is a type of cancer that usually appears as tumors on the skin or mucosal surfaces, and often presents an AIDS-related malignancy. In certain parts of the world, such as Africa, it is endemic due to high rates of both HIV and KS-associated herpesvirus (KSHV), which often leads to the cancer.

“KSHV is an emerging pathogen endemic in African children and Kaposi sarcoma is the second most common pediatric malignancy in Africa,” said Mulama. “To date, there is neither a prophylactic or therapeutic KSHV/KS vaccine nor robust tools to diagnose the disease in most African countries. Although efforts have been made to eliminate new HIV infections in children, millions of children in Africa already living with HIV/AIDS, as well as those who will be infected in the coming years, are still at high risk for KS and would benefit from improved therapies like a vaccine and better diagnostic tools.”

The main aim of his project funded by St. Baldrick’s will be to evaluate the ability of vaccine candidates — certain types of KSHV-envelope glycoproteins — to elicit an immune response in vulnerable populations. A multivalent vaccine that consists of four envelope glycoproteins and a latent membrane protein will be delivered to the body using noninfectious virus-like particles has shown very promising results in preclinical animal models and Mulama plans to further refine the large scale production of these vaccines as potential prophylactic and therapeutic agents.

If his initial studies prove successful, Mulama plans to set up clinical trials in Kenya in order to measure the safety and efficacy of the vaccine candidates in humans. The vaccine could also have applications in preventing and treating existing KSHV infections in transplant and AIDS-immunodeficient patients.

Mulama came to City of Hope from the Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, in Kakamega, Kenya, where he was a lecturer in the department of biological sciences. He has also done research at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Cardiff University in Wales and the Kenya Medical Research Institute, and is looking forward to gaining hands-on experience in laboratory experimental design and training in translational research in his new position.

“To be at the City of Hope at this moment in time is a great opportunity that any scientist in cancer research would not want to miss,” said Mulama. “The reputation of City of Hope and the Beckman Research Institute is just amazing and there is a lot that I look forward to accomplishing. I am grateful to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation for funding me.”

About St. Baldrick’s Foundation

As the largest private funder of childhood cancer research grants, the St. Baldrick’s Foundation believes that kids are special and deserve to be treated that way. St. Baldrick’s is leading the charge to take childhood back from cancer by funding some of the most brilliant childhood cancer research experts who are working to find cures and better treatments for all childhood cancers. Kids need treatments as unique as they are — and that starts with funding research just for them.




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