Distinguished Professor Jae Jung, PhD, chair of the Department of Molecular Microbiology & Immunology and the director of the USC Institute for Emerging Pathogens and Immune Diseases at the Keck School of Medicine, is among the 2016 recipients of the National Cancer Institute’s Outstanding Investigator Award.

Jung committed much of his last 20 years of research to examining viruses that stay dormant in the body for an entire lifetime and cause diseases upon declining immune conditions, with a particular emphasis on the Kaposi’s sarcoma associated herpesvirus (KSHV). When the immune system is weakened, KSHV can spread and cause Kaposi’s sarcoma, a form of systemic cancer with cutaneous lesions that can be solitary, localized or disseminated.

“We are investigating how the virus persists in the body, how the virus induces Kaposi’s sarcoma, and ultimately what we can do to prevent Kaposi’s sarcoma,” Jung said.

To support Jung’s efforts, the NCI will provide an annual grant of $1 million for the next seven years, totaling $7 million for the Jae Jung Lab in the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology.

“I am honored to be recognized as an Outstanding Investigator by the NCI,” Jung said. “But more importantly, I am excited for the opportunity, with the financial support of the NCI, to heavily focus on bigger questions about Kaposi’s sarcoma and lifelong, persistent infections of KSHV. I am very much looking forward to our discoveries over the next few years.”

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) Outstanding Investigator Award (OIA) is a new grant program developed by NCI in 2014 that will provide funding to investigators with outstanding records of productivity in cancer research to continue or embark upon new projects of unusual potential in cancer research over an extended period of seven years. The Award was developed to provide investigators with substantial time to break new ground or extend previous discoveries to advance biomedical, behavioral, or clinical cancer research.

— Mary Dacuma