Study examines using lubricant made with seaweed extracts to protect against HPV infection

April 6, 2017 by Mary Ann Littell, Rutgers University
Electron micrograph of a negatively stained human papilloma virus (HPV) which occurs in human warts. Credit: public domain

A new study led by Rutgers clinician and researcher Mark Einstein is examining a revolutionary way to block transmission of human papillomavirus (HPV), the organism that causes 99 percent of cervical cancers, using a topical gel applied during sexual activity. The product is a personal lubricant made with a formulation of seaweed extracts commonly referred to as carrageenans.

Positive results of the study would offer women the opportunity to protect themselves and their sexual partners against potentially deadly HPV through the simple application of an inexpensive, over-the-counter product. Funded by the National Cancer Institute, the study is being conducted jointly by Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

HPV is easily transmitted through sexual contact, and nearly 80 million people – about one in four – are currently infected in the United States.

More than 12,000 women are diagnosed with each year in the U.S., and more than 4,000 of them will die of it. HPV is also linked to cancers of the vagina, vulva, penis, anus, and back of the throat, tongue and tonsils, in men and women.

"There are about 150 known types of HPV. It's a very common virus that alters the immune system to favor its own survival," says Einstein, who is professor and chair of New Jersey Medical School's Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, & Women's Health. A specialist in cervical and other gynecologic cancers, he is the study's principal investigator.

"More than 80 percent of Americans will be infected with HPV in their lifetime, but in most cases, it never causes symptoms or illness – and certainly not in most people," Einstein explains. "Persistent HPV – an infection that lasts more than 12 months – may be worrisome because the chances of developing a clinically relevant disease are much higher when the virus persists."

In the study, 100 sexually active women will be recruited and randomly assigned to receive either the lubricant with carrageenans or a lubricant without it, both packaged in single-use applicators. The women are asked to use the lubricant before and after . Participants will be tested monthly to determine how effectively lubricant with carrageenans can protect against HPV.

While great progress has been made in creating HPV vaccines, current approaches to prevent infection have limitations. Three HPV vaccines currently on the market provide strong protection against infection. However, the vaccines are effective only in those ages 26 and younger. "Carrageenans in a is a totally new approach to prevent HPV infection in those of any age," says Einstein. Because HPV is a , finding protection from a topical product used during sexual activity is a logical approach.

The concept of using the as an infection barrier has its roots in a 2006 study in which carrageenan was found to offer infection-inhibiting protection against a wide range of HPV types, including those that are known to cause cancer. All personal lubricants marketed and sold in the U.S. must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Einstein, who is also assistant dean of the clinical research unit at New Jersey Medical School, has been an investigator on a number of HPV vaccine clinical trials and was on the guidelines writing group for the American Cancer Society and a consultant to the World Health Organization. "If effective, this approach can be a cheap, women-controlled way that can empower women to protect themselves from HPV and cervical cancer," says Einstein.

Explore further: New study shows HPV vaccine is reducing rates of genital warts

Related Stories

New study shows HPV vaccine is reducing rates of genital warts

March 29, 2017
The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine was introduced in Australia in 2007 and New Zealand in 2008 to prevent cervical cancer. It was free for women up to age 26 in Australia and to all women under 20 in New Zealand. This ...

Five tips for preventing cervical cancer

January 13, 2017
Silent but deadly. These are words often used to describe cervical cancer—a slow-growing disease that rarely causes symptoms in its early stages.

Screening, HPV vaccine can prevent cervical cancer: FDA

February 8, 2017
(HealthDay)—Women can reduce their risk of cervical cancer through vaccination and screening, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says.

Nearly half of U.S. men infected with HPV, study finds

January 19, 2017
(HealthDay)—Many American men are infected with the cancer-causing human papillomavirus (HPV), but unlike women, men are more likely to stay infected throughout their lives, a new study finds.

Cervical cancer is preventable, but still a leading cancer

January 11, 2017
At the beginning of the year, many women (and men) set resolutions around health and fitness, often focusing on weight loss. But one of the most important habits women can form revolves around regular health checks, particularly ...

Recommended for you

Anticancer drug offers potential alternative to transplant for patients with liver failure

August 15, 2018
Patients suffering sudden liver failure could in the future benefit from a new treatment that could reduce the need for transplants, research published today shows.

Study shows how MERS coronavirus evolves to infect different species

August 14, 2018
In the past 15 years, two outbreaks of severe respiratory disease were caused by coronaviruses transmitted from animals to humans. In 2003, SARS-CoV (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus) spread from civets to infect ...

Inching closer to a soft spot in isoniazid-resistant tuberculosis

August 14, 2018
Antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis is a public health threat. TB and other bacteria become resistant to antibiotics by evolving genetic changes over time, which they can do quite quickly because bacterial lifecycles are short. ...

Why do women get more migraines?

August 14, 2018
Research published today reveals a potential mechanism for migraine causation which could explain why women get more migraines than men. The study, in Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences, suggests that sex hormones affect ...

How long is an Ebola survivor contagious? One case is causing scientists to rethink the answer.

August 14, 2018
Surviving Ebola isn't like getting over the flu.

Link between common 'harmless' virus and cardiovascular damage

August 13, 2018
Researchers from Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS) have found an unexpectedly close link between a herpes virus and the occurrence of immune cells damaging cardiovascular tissue.


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.