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Synthetic peptide targets latent papilloma virus infections

Berkeley -- While a newly marketed vaccine promises to drastically reduce human papilloma virus (HPV) infections, the major cause of cervical cancer, a new discovery by University of California, Berkeley, researchers could some day help the millions of people already infected and at constant risk of genital warts and cancer.

One study found that 75 percent of sexually active men and women under 50 have, or have had, an HPV infection, while 10,000 women annually develop cervical cancer, more than 90 percent of which is caused by HPV. Four thousand women die of cervical cancer each year.

Once infected, it's difficult to rid oneself of the virus because it hides as a latent DNA in cells of the epithelial tissue, such as skin and the lining of the vagina and cervix, and spreads as these cells divide.

The UC Berkeley team created a protein fragment, or peptide, that successfully prevents the virus from hitching a ride on a cell's chromosomes as the cell divides. If such a peptide - or more likely, a drug that mimics the action of the peptide - works in the body, it would effectively stop the virus from spreading or generating warts, which can progress to cancer.

"We're optimistic that this will work generally for many different genetic variants of human papilloma virus, though it's too early to say how many of the genotypes of this virus will respond," said Michael Botchan, professor of molecular and cell biology and a faculty affiliate of the UC Berkeley branch of the California Institute for Quantitative Biology (QB3). "The hope is to have one drug that works for all different human virus types."

"The second most preventable cancer in the world, after lung cancer, is cervical cancer, the result of high HPV infection rates in the developing world, in Asia and South America and Africa," he added. "If we can get something to stop HPV replication, it would have a big health impact."

Botchan, post-doctoral fellow Eric
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Contact: Robert Sanders
rsanders@berkeley.edu
510-643-6998
University of California - Berkeley
2-Jan-2007


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