Researchers at The Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, have announced the discovery of small molecules that kill cancer cells caused by infection with human papillomavirus (HPV). Their results, in both cell and mouse models, demonstrate that the small molecule inhibitors protect a tumor-suppressing protein targeted by viral proteins, thus killing the infected tumor cells. The Wistar scientists presented their findings in the April 20, 2012 issue of Chemistry & Biology. The researchers believe that, with further testing and refinement, their inhibitors could provide a therapeutic for HPV-caused tumors, such as those seen in cervical cancer. “While there is an effective vaccine for preventing HPV infection, there is currently no therapeutic that specifically targets cancers caused by the virus,” said Ronen Marmorstein, Ph.D., senior author, Hilary Koprowski, M.D. Professor, and leader of The Wistar Institute Cancer Center’s Gene Expression and Regulation program. “HPV often turns cells cancerous for the virus’s own reproductive advantage, and we have found a class of small molecules that effectively prevents a key HPV protein from allowing cells to become cancerous,” Dr. Marmorstein said. “We think that this could be the start of an effective drug strategy for cancers caused by HPV.” HPV is one of the primary infectious causes of cancer, responsible for most cases of cervical cancer, nearly 20 percent of all head and neck cancers, and has been implicated in cancers of the vagina, penis, and anus. American Cancer Society statistics estimate that over 4,000 women will die this year from cervical cancer alone. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimate that about 50 percent of sexually active men and women will be infected with HPV at one point in their lives.
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