AIDS TREATMENT NEWS Issue #213, December 23, 1994
Researchers at Columbia University have found evidence of a
previously unknown herpesvirus in KS lesions of persons with
AIDS. This virus has not been found in tissues of persons
without AIDS and without KS -- including those with lymphoma
and other diseases. It is occasionally present in non-KS tissue
from persons with AIDS.
This association does not necessarily mean that the virus
causes KS -- since it could be a normally-occurring virus which
preferentially grows in KS tissue. But if the virus does cause
KS, the finding will be very important for developing
treatments, for diagnostic tests to tell who is at risk, and
for epidemiological studies to prevent the spread of the virus.
It is not known whether or not the new virus is sensitive to
any existing drugs.
Researchers have long believed that KS is not a true cancer --
and that it is probably caused by an infectious agent other
than HIV, but is unlikely to become a serious problem except in
those who are immune compromised. It is 20 times more likely to
be found in gay men with AIDS than in hemophiliacs with AIDS,
and may be transmitted (separately from HIV) by unsafe sexual
The new research used an advanced biotechnology technique
called representational difference analysis (RDA). In RDA, two
different tissues are taken from the same patient -- in this
case from a KS lesions, vs. tissue without KS. RDA uses gene
amplification (PCR) in a special way, in order to find genetic
sequences which are uniquely present in the tissue of interest.
(Once such a sequence is identified, more conventional
techniques can be used to identify it in other tissue samples.)
The paper describing the research appeared in SCIENCE, December
16. The NEW YORK TIMES reported that the editors of SCIENCE
took five months to examine the data, to be especially careful
to make sure the results were valid. There is skepticism about
the reasons for the delay.
This research was funded by Columbia University's Department of
Pathology, and School of Public Health.
Comment: Foscarnet, Call for Information
At the Second International Congress on Drug Therapy in HIV
Infection, last month in Glasgow, Scotland, a physician in the
audience reported that several KS patients had improved when
treated with foscarnet (Foscavir), an approved drug usually
used for treating CMV infection. According to NURSING 94 DRUG
HANDBOOK, foscarnet inhibits all known herpesviruses in
laboratory tests. Unfortunately foscarnet must be given
intravenously, and it can cause serious toxicities.
We heard that some KS experts scoffed at these case reports,
because the information was not from a controlled trial. They
probably did know about the Columbia findings, which were not
public at the time of the Glasgow meeting but were discussed
If you know of any case in which a person with KS has used
foscarnet, regardless of whether or not there seemed to be any
effect on the KS, please contact John S. James at AIDS
TREATMENT NEWS, 415/255-0588, or fax to 415/255-4659.
Chang Y, Cesarman E, Pessin MS, Lee F, Culpepper J,
Knowles DM, and Moore PS. Identification of herpesvirus-like
DNA sequences in AIDS-associated Kaposi's sarcoma. SCIENCE.
1994; volume 266, pages 1865-1869.