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Wednesday, 23 February, 2000, 15:28 GMT
Scientists zero in on cancer virus

Electron microscope
Scientists have a deadly virus in close detail


Scientists believe they have made a breakthrough that could lead to drugs to target and destroy a virus linked to cervical cancer.

The discovery, by a team from York University, may also lead to new treatments for other forms of cancer.


It opens the door for considerable further work and offers a real possibility of designing a drug to combat the cancer-causing human papillomaviruses
Professor Norman Maitland, York University
In the UK, 5,000 new cases of cervical cancer are recorded each year, and 2,000 women die of the disease.

The York team has worked out the structure of a protein that controls the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) - thought by some to be involved in the development of cervical cancer.

This was done using state-of-the-art crystallography techniques.

Antiviral drugs

It should enable antiviral drugs to be designed specifically to control the cancer-causing segment of the protein.


It brings very real hope for sufferers of this wide-spread form of cancer
Elaine King, Chief Executive, Yorkshire Cancer Research
Lead researcher Professor Norman Maitland: "The discovery explains a lot of puzzling data from previous research here and in the USA.

"It opens the door for considerable further work and offers a real possibility of designing a drug to combat the cancer-causing human papillomaviruses."

Professor Maitland told BBC News Online that drugs would have to be administered during the earliest stages of the disease, which are detectable from a cervical smear test.

Treatment at this stage could potentially stop the virus from reproducing. Any drugs would be ineffective once the cancer had taken hold.

Elaine King, Chief Executive of Yorkshire Cancer Research, the charity which funded the research, said the breakthrough was "great news".

She said: "The importance of the discovery by Professor Maitland and his team cannot be over-emphasised. It brings very real hope for sufferers of this wide-spread form of cancer."

Dr Joanne Reynolds, scientific information officer for the Cancer Research Campaign, said the research could have "great implications" for the treatment of cervical cancer.

But she said: "Only time will tell whether this is going to lead to new drugs being developed that will successfully treat HPV."

The crystallography technique involved growing the protein in a solution, and then reducing the water content until tiny crystals were formed.

The crystals were then subjected to x-rays which revealed the patterns of its component parts, the amino acids.

The research is published in the journal Nature.

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See also:
12 Mar 99 |  Health
Vinegar test for cervical cancer
23 Jun 99 |  Health
Cervical cancer vaccine on test
26 Aug 99 |  Medical notes
Human Papillomavirus: The facts

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