At the University of Rochester Medical Center, the initial research more than 20 years ago included visits to veterinarians and meat-packaging plants in Upstate New York to collect scrapings from "prized" cow warts, and surveys of people unlikely to be infected with a sexually transmitted disease priests and nuns who had taken a vow of celibacy.
The work with the cows, the warts, the nuns and the priests illustrates how basic research can pay off in big and unexpected ways. The research by a trio of University of Rochester virologists William Bonnez, M.D., Richard Reichman, M.D., and Robert Rose, Ph.D. helped bring about the cervical cancer vaccine, poised to prevent cancer in thousands of people. The University is one of several institutions in whose laboratories work on an HPV vaccine blossomed. Rochester's contribution is recognized with a patent issued by the European Patent Office and by royalty agreements with the companies commercializing the vaccine.
The research project in Rochester began with an effort to develop a blood test to detect infection by a class of viruses known as human papillomaviruses or HPV, which cause warts as well as cervical cancer. To do so, the researchers needed large amounts of papillomavirus and while there are plenty of warts in this world, finding people willing to collect and analyze them is quite a different story. So as a starting point the team turned to bovine papillomavirus or BPV in cows, and Bonnez found himself visiting veterinarians and others with access to cows with warts, seeking samples.