Scientists have found a compound derived from red algae to be a potent inhibitor of Human Papillomavirus (HPV) that causes cervical cancers and genital warts. The study has been published in the July issue of PLoS Pathogens.
The compound carrageenan, a commercial thickening agent, blocks the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) from sticking to the cells and prevents it from infecting them. This compound is a more natural and less expensive way to block cervical cancer than HPV vaccine, which are costlier, costing around $400.
One of the study's author, John Schiller, told CTV news that the compound was by far the best inhibitor that they have found against the virus and that it is 100 times more potent than anything else they have identified. Researcher Christopher Buck noted that algae are potent even in small quantities.
HPV has been found to be responsible for 70% of the cervical cancers where they infect cells in the genital tract. Ninety percent of genital wart cases are also attributed to this virus.
Clinical testing to study the effectiveness of carrageenan is underway in South Africa by the Population Council as the test conducted so far have only been in the laboratories and much more research is needed before using the compound to treat cancers.
Encouraged by the fact that many over-the-counter sexual lubricants already contain carrageenan for its gel-like qualities, scientists hope to turn the cancer-blocking algae into a gel that is applied on the genitals before sexual contact. The eventually hope that the cancer-blocking agent could be sold in the form of lubricated products, such as condoms or gel.
The main advantage of this natural compound derived from seaweed is that it is available in plenty along the Atlantic Coast and is inexpensive to produce making it much cheaper than the HPV vaccine.
The researchers believe this would help in universal access to cervical cancer prevention as not everyone can afford the costly HPV vaccines. "There will be many at risk of developing cervical cancer around the world who will not have access to the vaccine anytime soon," Schiller said. "It may be an inexpensive product they can use."
Test to detect the efficiency of carrageenan to prevent other diseases are also being carried out, and the researchers hope that one day the compound can be used in treating herpes and even HIV Infection.