U to test HPV vaccine

The vaccine for the sexually transmitted infection could be on the market by 2008.

Hayley Odom

In the next four years, a new vaccine could change women’s reproductive health.

University researchers will soon begin testing a vaccine for human papillomavirus, or HPV, a sexually transmitted infection that can cause cervical cancer.

If the vaccine does protect women from developing HPV, it could be on the market by 2008, said Levi Downs, a researcher for the study and professor of medicine at the University.

Downs said recent studies examined college-age women who were infected with HPV and sexually active. He said the studies showed at least 80 percent of these women are exposed to the virus.

The disease can cause genital warts, but in many other cases it has no symptoms. Condom use might decrease the chances of getting HPV but does not prevent infection altogether, said professor of medicine Mitchell Krathwohl.

To lower chances of getting HPV or other sexually transmitted infections, he said people can practice abstinence, be faithful to their partners and use condoms.

Downs said the study is the first time women in Minnesota will have access to this type of vaccination. It is also the last phase of testing for the vaccine before Federal Drug Administration approval.

“Studies thus far show the vaccine has 100 percent efficacy,” he said. “All (patients) that were followed had no evidence of persistent viral infection.”

He said he predicts the vaccine will prevent HPV in all women who receive it.

Downs said HPV is linked to 10,000 cases of cervical cancer each year. Researchers anticipate that when HPV cases decrease, cervical cancer cases will also decline, he said.

Krathwohl said cervical cancer is one of the main cancers that cause death in women.

“Cervical cancer is pretty much a HPV-related problem,” he said.

Krathwohl said he is hopeful about the study, but said he does not know if four years will be enough time to track the vaccine’s effects.

“It takes a while to develop cancer,” he said. “You have to follow people for five to 19 years to prove (cervical cancer) is going down.”

Graduate student and Sexual Health Awareness and Disease Education co-coordinator Valerie Mendralla said she thought the vaccine would be extremely beneficial for 18- to 24-year-old women.

“The general population is not concerned, because they don’t really know what (HPV) is,” she said. “Those of us with sexual-health knowledge know it’s very big and something we should be concerned about.”

First-year student Emma Hunter said she thinks testing the vaccine is a great idea.

“It’s a widespread problem,” she said. “I think any research that will better anyone shouldn’t be looked down upon.”

Sophomore Michele Smith said the vaccine would be very beneficial.

“I’d be for the vaccine as a preventative measure, especially if HPV is so prevalent in society and in women,” she said.

The study is worldwide and Downs said he expects 13,000 women will participate. The University is one of 40 sites in the United States to test the vaccine.

University researchers are hoping to enroll 150 women in the study, which will last four years.