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Friday, January 16, 1998 Published at 06:05 GMT



Sci/Tech

Cervical cells used in fight against cancer
image: [ The HPV virus ]
The HPV virus

Scientists believe they are on the verge of creating a vaccine to combat some forms of cancer.

It is hoped eventually the vaccine could be used on children.

The researchers in Manchester say they have discovered a link between cervical cancer and a common, usually harmless virus.

They already knew that certain types of the sexually-transmitted human papilloma virus (HPV) are linked to more than 90% of cervical cancers.


[ image: Doctors claim a link between cancer and viruses]
Doctors claim a link between cancer and viruses
But it has been a mystery why a minority of women are unable to fight off the infection, increasing their risk of getting cancer.

Now British and Dutch scientists have found a way to explain how the most common strain linked to cervical cancer, HPV16, is able to evade the body's immune system.

Cancer Research Campaign scientists at Manchester's Paterson Institute for Cancer Research, and colleagues at the Free University of Amsterdam, studied 88 women with abnormal cervical cells and HPV16 infection.

They monitored the women whose condition worsened. By narrowing the search to five patients they discovered they lacked human leucocyte antigen (HLA) molecules in their infected cells.

The HLA molecules work like an alarm to alert the immune system to the presence of a virus.

The majority of women who were able to overcome HPV infection had HLA present in their abnormal cells.


[ image: Eventually children could be vaccinated against cancer]
Eventually children could be vaccinated against cancer
The findings, published in the Lancet, suggest that in some cases the HLA alarm bells fail to go off and the infected cells escape detection by the immune system.

Professor Gordon McVie, director general of the Cancer Research Campaign, said: "This research is important because it could help in the design of cervical cancer vaccines which boost the immune system's ability to recognise and fight HPV.

"It might also have implications for the treatment of other sorts of cancers because a third of all tumours, and particularly prostate cancer, show altered HLAs," he added.

Dr Peter Stern, head of the research group at the Paterson Institute, said: "This is very exciting because it is the first time anyone has been able to show how the virus could evade the immune system in pre-malignant cervical cells."
 





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The Paterson Institute for Cancer Research

University of Amsterdam (in Dutch)

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Institute of Cancer Research

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