Skip to main content

Together we are beating cancer

Donate now

Scientists find clues to new targets for cervical vaccines

The Cancer Research UK logo
by Cancer Research UK | News

19 July 2005

0 comments 0 comments

Research unravelling the body’s immune response to the human papilloma virus (HPV), the major cause of cervical cancer, has given scientists important clues to new targets for vaccines against the disease.

HPV has been linked to almost all cases of cervical cancer and researchers are currently trying to develop effective vaccines against the virus to both prevent and treat the disease.

The research is published today (Tuesday) in the British Journal of Cancer (BJC).

Carried out by Cancer Research UK scientists at the University of Birmingham, the study shows that patients who are able to clear HPV infection have a different immune response to those whose infection progresses to cervical cancer.

Understanding more about these differences should help researchers narrow down which proteins potential vaccines should target in order to trigger the immune response that clears HPV infection, and stops cervical cancer from developing.

Cervical cancer is the second most common female cancer worldwide, with an estimated half a million new cases diagnosed each year.

One of the researchers, Dr Jane Steele from the Cancer Research UK Institute for Cancer Studies at the University of Birmingham, says:

“Little was understood about how the immune system’s defence mechanisms work to clear HPV infection. So, to find out more, we studied 41 women at different stages of progression of the disease from HPV infection to cervical cancer. We measured the response of their immune system cells to proteins from the most common type of HPV.

“We found that the patients with pre-cancerous lesions most likely to progress to cervical cancer showed less immune activity from a population of immune cells called helper T cells than the women who were at much less risk.

“This could mean that helper T cells, which are known to play a central role in the immune response, are critical in disease progression. Vaccines aimed to re-activate helper T cell responses to the relevant proteins should be considered.”

Professor John Toy, Medical Director of Cancer Research UK, which owns the BJC, says: “Vaccines are likely to play an important role in helping us control certain cancers in the future and scientists are hopeful that vaccines against HPV might be able to prevent cervical cancer altogether. This research opens up new avenues of investigation for the development of possibly better vaccines.”


For media enquiries please contact Sophy Gould on 020 7061 8318 or, out-of-hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264 059.