SEATTLE – Jan. 27, 2016 – In response to low national vaccination rates for the human papillomavirus, or HPV, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center has joined with the 68 other U.S. National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers in issuing a statement urging for increased vaccination in adolescent girls and boys for the prevention of many types of HPV-related cancers in adulthood. The virus, which is sexually transmitted, impacts nearly all men and women at some point in their lives and can lead to cervical, anal, vaginal, penile, vulvar, and head and neck cancers.
Fred Hutch and the other cancer centers named in the statement collectively recognize insufficient vaccination as a public health threat and call upon the nation’s physicians, parents and adolescents to take advantage of this rare opportunity to prevent many types of cancer.
“The HPV vaccine is an amazing public health advance, but it doesn’t guarantee eradication of HPV. It’s important to remember that the vaccine works best in those who haven’t been infected with the virus, which means, essentially, people who are not yet sexually active,” said Dr. Gary Gilliland, president and director of Fred Hutch, whose researchers played a pivotal role in both discovering HPV’s association with cancer and paving the way for the development of the vaccine.
The vaccine’s roots lie in the laboratory of Dr. Denise Galloway, associate director and member of the Human Biology Division at Fred Hutch, as well as laboratories in Australia and the National Institutes of Health, where Galloway and fellow investigators accomplished the groundbreaking step of getting a key viral gene to assemble into particles that look like HPV, which became the basis of the vaccine.
Galloway and colleagues began studying HPV’s utility as a tool for understanding how normal cells turn abnormal. Viruses disrupt cellular pathways in much the same way as cancers do, so studying them illuminates parallel cellular processes.
In 1992, Galloway made a breakthrough discovery when she and her colleagues found that they could use one viral gene, called L1, from the same type of HPV that causes plantar warts, and get it to self-assemble and form virus-like particles. This eventually led to the development of virus-like particles for the cancer-causing types of HPV, which then became the underpinning of the vaccine.