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Study suggests how HPV beats immune system

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 6/10/2016

A protein may be the key player in suppressing the body's immune response to one of the main viruses that cause cervical cancer, according to an Otago University study.

The researchers' findings suggest that E7, produced by a high-risk type of human papillomavirus - HPV16 - could be behind how the virus evades its host's immune system.

Most people with an HPV infection will clear the virus from their bodies within two years.

However, 10 to 20 per cent of those infected will fail to do so and become at much higher risk of developing cervical cancer.

Associate Professor Merilyn Hibma, lead author of the study published in the international journal Scientific Reports, says exactly how HPV16 suppresses the body's immune response has remained a matter of debate.

"Our new findings show that E7, in the absence of other HPV16 proteins, is sufficient enough to cause a range of effects on specialised cells normally involved in priming the body's T-cells to combat viral infection," she said.

"Further teasing out the mechanisms behind the failure of T-cells to be primed to attack the virus may allow new therapies that enable the body to fight off a persistent HPV infection."

Prof Hibma said this knowledge also helped in the understanding of how cancer cells avoided being detected by the immune system, as E7 was also produced by cervical cancer cells.

"From this we may be able to identify new ways to block cancer suppression of the immune response," she said.

"This approach is similar to the 'checkpoint inhibitors' - Keytruda and Opdiva - recently funded by Pharmac for the treatment of melanoma."

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