'Get vaccinated,' says HPV expert at UB Medical School

October 11, 2011, University at Buffalo

(Medical Xpress) -- A University at Buffalo microbiologist whose lab has been studying the human papilloma virus for years, says that parents should have their children vaccinated with Gardasil, the HPV vaccine.

At the same time, he says the vaccine is not the long-term answer to solving and the cancers they cause.

Thomas Melendy, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology and the Department of Biochemistry in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and his colleagues have been studying how the "hijacks" a cell's DNA machinery in order to replicate its .

Currently, Melendy and his UB colleagues are working to develop an anti-viral drug against HPV infections, as well as strategies that would kill HPV while leaving normal cells alone. Melendy's group is the world leader in identifying critical interactions between the HPV proteins and human proteins that the virus uses to duplicate its . Last year, Melendy won an award for best overall research presentation in basic sciences at the 26th International Papillomavirus Conference in Montreal. His work explained why HPV, unlike other DNA viruses, integrates so readily into the genome of .

In the Q & A below, Melendy discusses his detailed knowledge of HPV and why children should be vaccinated.

What is HPV?

HPV, or human papilloma viruses, have co-evolved with humans over millions of years. HPV infections are very common and almost everyone has one at some point in their lives. Most infections create a small benign wart, which is generally resolved by our immune systems. Some HPV strains only infect the outer skin while others are sexually transmitted and only infect the genitalia or other mucosal surfaces.

How common are HPV sexually transmitted infections?

HPV sexually transmitted infections are among the most common. Virtually one in nine people in the U.S. have an active HPV sexually transmitted infection at any time. Some require treatment; others may not even be apparent and resolve on their own. It is only the rare HPV infection, one in thousands of cases, that develops into cancer.

How concerned should parents be about cervical cancer caused by HPV?

is the third most common cancer in women in the U.S. It also causes almost all other anogenital cancers, and over half of oral cancers. This means that HPV causes more cancers than anything other than smoking. Unlike other cancers, such as breast cancer, the absence of a family history of cervical cancer provides little statistical protection. Genetic modifiers and environmental factors, such as smoking, play some role, but the overwhelming single predictor for HPV cancer is having a persistent HPV infection. While regular Pap smears help catch cervical cancer early, so it's more treatable, nearly one in three cases still results in death in the U.S., and it's one out of two cases worldwide. That's approximately 5,000 deaths a year in the U.S. and 232,000 worldwide. Unlike most forms of cancer, cervical cancer often strikes early, killing women in the prime of their lives.

What are the advantages of the HPV vaccine?

The HPV vaccine is clearly worthwhile. If given properly to all girls before they become sexually active, the HPV vaccine would prevent about two-thirds of cervical cancers; vaccinating boys as well as girls will also provide likely protection against other anogenital and oral cancers. Since HPV is such a common sexually transmitted infection, and since even condoms are only partially effective at preventing HPV transmission, the vaccine series needs to be given before people first become sexually active.

What are the vaccine's drawbacks?

This is not a "risky" vaccine. It has no mercury-containing chemicals -- for which no danger has been proven -- but some people, nevertheless, remain concerned. There is no viral, genetic material so there is no danger of infecting anyone from the vaccination. While there are apocryphal reports of serious health consequences to a few young girls, there is absolutely no evidence at this point that the vaccine caused the negative health consequences attributed to it. To date, the number of cases that might have caused an unusual allergic response are so small (a handful) that the benefits of saving thousands of lives by the far outweigh the risks for any individual.

What else is being done to prevent, diagnose and treat HPV infections and the cancers they cause?

Better vaccines, better treatments against HPV infection, and better treatments for HPV-induced cancers are all necessary. This is a cancer that can, in many cases, be prevented through vaccination or, potentially, by early treatment of HPV infections--if new, anti-HPV drugs can be developed. HPV cancers are potentially far more amenable to cancer-specific treatments than are most cancers. Additional research funding in these areas could save thousands and thousands of lives every year.

Explore further: Lack of clarity about HPV vaccine and the need for cervical cancer screening

Related Stories

Lack of clarity about HPV vaccine and the need for cervical cancer screening

July 7, 2011
The research will be presented today at the Annual Scientific Meeting of the Society of Academic Primary Care, hosted this year by the Academic Unit of Primary Health Care, University of Bristol.

HIV drug could prevent cervical cancer

May 3, 2011
A widely used HIV drug could be used to prevent cervical cancer caused by infection with the human papilloma virus (HPV), say scientists.

Recommended for you

Researchers identify new treatment target for melanoma

January 16, 2018
Researchers in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania have identified a new therapeutic target for the treatment of melanoma. For decades, research has associated female sex and a history of previous ...

More evidence of link between severe gum disease and cancer risk

January 16, 2018
Data collected during a long-term health study provides additional evidence for a link between increased risk of cancer in individuals with advanced gum disease, according to a new collaborative study led by epidemiologists ...

Researchers develop a remote-controlled cancer immunotherapy system

January 15, 2018
A team of researchers has developed an ultrasound-based system that can non-invasively and remotely control genetic processes in live immune T cells so that they recognize and kill cancer cells.

Pancreatic tumors may require a one-two-three punch

January 15, 2018
One of the many difficult things about pancreatic cancer is that tumors are resistant to most treatments because of their unique density and cell composition. However, in a new Wilmot Cancer Institute study, scientists discovered ...

New immunotherapy approach boosts body's ability to destroy cancer cells

January 12, 2018
Few cancer treatments are generating more excitement these days than immunotherapy—drugs based on the principle that the immune system can be harnessed to detect and kill cancer cells, much in the same way that it goes ...

Cancer's gene-determined 'immune landscape' dictates progression of prostate tumors

January 12, 2018
The field of immunotherapy - the harnessing of patients' own immune systems to fend off cancer - is revolutionizing cancer treatment today. However, clinical trials often show marked improvements in only small subsets of ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.