Approximately 20 million people in the United States are currently carrying the human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes genital warts and various kinds of cancer, the most common being cervical cancer in women.
There are about 200 different strains of the virus and every year, almost half a million women get cervical cancer – 200,000 of them will die. It is a sexually transmitted disease that affects around half of sexually active people.
A team of researchers from around the world believe they have uncovered vital information about the virus that could potentially lead to a future cure. They have singled out proteins in the virus that break down a protective protein that the body creates.
The body carries out what is called "programmed cell death," in which sick cells are eliminated. When HPV is in the body, however, it uses two proteins called E6 and E7 to stop this natural process.
But how does HPV cause cancer? This is due to the virus's ability to survive and lie dormant in the body for years. It continues releasing its destructive proteins which stop programmed cell death, keeping sick cells growing in the body and leading to cancer.
Current vaccines prevent HPV but cannot provide a cure for those already infected, which makes research like this so essential. Co-author Neil Ferguson of the University College Dublin says their finding is "an important step forward in understanding HPV biology and has important implications for therapeutic strategies."