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Mass production of human papillomavirus could lead to gains against cervical cancer

Researchers may be on the verge of exploiting the vulnerabilities of a virus that causes cervical cancer, thanks to a newly developed technique that enables scientists to mass-produce human papillomavirus (HPV) in the laboratory.

HPV, which exists in more than 100 forms, is the most prevalent sexually transmitted infection. Transmission of HPV can also occur non-sexually. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 20 million people in the United States are currently infected with HPV. At least 50 percent of sexually active men and women will acquire genital HPV infection at some point in their lives. By age 50, at least 80 percent of women will have acquired genital HPV infection.

Although the infection is usually harmless, certain types of HPV are responsible for nearly all cases of cervical cancer, and other types contribute to about a quarter of head and neck cancers and some skin cancers. A more common, less virulent form of the virus causes genital warts.

Using the new technique scientists can quickly produce a thousand times more infectious virus per culture dish than they could using conventional methods. Researchers are hopeful that this advance could lead to new antiviral drugs and to vaccines that would trigger the immune system to attack at an earlier stage in the virus's life cycle to stop HPV before it can replicate.

The researchers, led by Paul Ahlquist, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, published an article describing their new technique on June 13, 2005, in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Ahlquist and co-authors Dohun Pyeon and Paul Lambert are at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The primary obstacle to producing HPV in the laboratory has been that in the early stage of its infective cycle, the virus lurks in undifferentiated basal epithelial (skin) cells, said Ahlquist. Once there, it remains in a diffuse form at
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Source:Howard Hughes Medical Institute


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