June 6, 2005

Contact: Angela Heisel, 272-3651

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

The University of New Mexico Cancer Research & Treatment Center in partnership with Johns Hopkins University has been awarded a grant from the Oxnard Foundation and the American Cancer Society to look at why some women with the human papillomavirus (HPV) develop cervical cancer while most others don't. HPV is the cause of essentially all cervical cancer.  Seventy percent of all sexually active people are exposed to the virus.

In the United States alone, billions of dollars are spent every year screening and treating women with HPV. Some of the treatment could be avoided in those women who have the virus but whose bodies would naturally killed it without treatment, said Michelle Ozbun, PhD, UNM Cancer Research & Treatment Center. The goal is to recognize which patients need the treatment and which ones don't, thus, focusing on the women who could actually develop cancer. Not only is treatment unnecessary in some women, but it can cause unintended side effects as well.

 

Known risk factors for women with HPV who develop cervical cancer are smoking, long-term use of oral contraceptives, other STD infections, and multiple live births.  However, the molecular roles these factors play in malignant progression is unclear.  The one thing all of these factors have in common is that they lead to an increase in the free radical nitric oxide that gets caught up in cervix that can damage DNA.  "Our hypothesis is that HPV infection can prevent these cells from repairing the DNA, which may make them more prone to becoming cancerous," Ozbun said.

 

Dr. Ozbun's lab at the UNM Cancer Research & Treatment Center is one of the few labs in the world that has the expertise to grow the virus in living skin tissue.  Ozbun is collaborating her findings in the lab with clinical results from patients to understand why some people have cells that do not repair DNA damaged by nitric oxide and develop cancer and why some women's body can fight it off. The researchers hope this will reveal biological "footprints" that can be used in screening programs to indicate which HPV-infected women will be more likely to develop cervical cancer.