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Scientists streamline method for making key virus

MADISON -- By devising a novel way to package the genome of a common human tumor virus -- the virus that causes common warts, genital warts and that is implicated in prevalent cancers -- scientists have paved the way for making the pathogen far more accessible to biomedical science.

The work, reported today (June 13) in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS), promises to accelerate the search for an effective cancer vaccine and treatments for cervical, head, neck and some skin cancers.

The new study on human papillomavirus by a team of scientists from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Institute for Molecular Virology and the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, describes a method for making large quantities of the virus in the lab.

The feat could help scientists overcome long-standing hurdles to understanding the basic biology of a major human pathogen: how the virus replicates, infects host cells and evades the immune system. It also promises to speed development of therapeutic drugs and new vaccines, including live, attenuated vaccines, according to Dohun Pyeon, the lead author of the report.

"This new approach offers dramatic advantages," says Paul Ahlquist, a UW-Madison virologist and the senior author of the PNAS paper. "It increases virus yield over a thousand fold, speeds production ten-fold, and lets us make and test virus mutants that weren't possible before."

Papillomavirus can be transmitted non-sexually, but is also one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in humans, with more than 5 million new infections reported each year in the United States alone. It is perhaps best known as the cause of genital warts, although some forms of the more than 100 subtypes of the virus are known to cause cervical cancer, and cancers of the head, neck and skin.

In nature, the virus lurks in skin cells, where it uses a "stealth strategy" t
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