Researchers claim that a common chemical used to thicken everything from baby food to sexual lubricants may help fight the virus that causes cervical cancer and genital warts.
Researchers found the thickener, carrageenan, prevented human papilloma viruses (HPV) from attaching to cells in laboratory tests. Certain strains of HPV can cause cervical cancer and genital warts.
In the study conducted by researchers from the National Cancer Institute, who reported their findings in Pathogens, a journal published by the Public Library of Science (PloS), it was reported that carrageenan, which is derived from red algae, may be developed and used to prevent HPV infection at low cost. However adding that their studies are yet to be confirmed, the researchers found that in a test tube, carrageenan inhibits the infectious ability of genital HPV with nearly a thousand-fold greater potency than other inhibitors tested.
It was reported that the FDA had recently approved a vaccine that targets HPV for the prevention of cervical cancer in women who might be at risk. But researchers also said that it doesn't protect against every strain of HPV and with its costs of around $360, it could prove to be too expensive for use in developing countries.
Explaining that the carrageenan, which is derived from the seaweed, red algae, could probably turn out to be best suited for testing as the thickener as its commonly used commercially is already used in sexual lubricants and other topically applied products, and food stuffs. They explained that HPV normally acts by attacking the cells by attaching themselves to the proteins present on the cell surfaces and then chemically gaining access to the cells. They further explained that the carrageenan prevented infection by stopping the virus from attaching to the cells.
John Schiller, senior investigator at the National Cancer Institute, in a press release said, "We were floored by how much better it worked than anything else we have tested. It's effective at 100-fold lower concentration than the next best inhibitor we've found. Further cautioning he added, "Our results do not prove that carrageenans will work as a practical HPV topical microbicide. The potent inhibition of infection of cells in dishes, coupled with the fact that carrageenan-based products are already in use for genital application, are promising, but we will need to do a well-controlled clinical trial before use of any of these products as an HPV inhibitor could be recommended."
Dr. Connie Trimble, an HPV researcher at Johns Hopkins University, explaining that this type of cancer require multiple weapons for treatment described the discovery as "a great thing." Trimble has been involved in the early preventive vaccine trials and is currently working on a maintenance vaccine for women who already have HPV.