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How Does HPV (Human Papillomavirus) Cause Cancer?

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The human papillomavirus is something that most people have only heard about recently. However, it is a virus which has been around for over 100 years.

As early as 1842 a doctor in Florence, Italy, made note of the fact that married women died of cervical cancer yet nuns did not. He therefore postulated that whatever caused the disease must be sexually transmitted.

So why no one has been familiar with HPV as a sexually transmitted infection until recently is the question.

Much of this has to do with technology. In the 1970s, Prof. Harald zur Hausen, a German researcher, developed a theory. He believed that HPV was responsible for cervical cancer but that it would not be easily found. He believed that HPV, which had long been known to be a virus, would remain dormant within the cells themselves and could become active at a later point in time.

Thus he began his search for the HPV DNA. He labored for over 10 years unable to find what he had been looking for. With the development of DNA amplification, a process by which the DNA can be multiplied, which renders a much greater sample, he was able to determine the first HPV type present in cervical cancer specimens. This was HPV16.

DNA amplification is to modern biochemistry what the printing press would be to the written word. The process itself allows for a single strand of DNA to be combined with various other agents. It is then repeatedly heated and cooled and results in two identical DNA strands. Continuing this process allows for the DNA to be reproduced exponentially so that within about an hour, 20 cycles can multiply the initial target DNA a million-fold. Obviously this allows for easier identification than efforts to search for one single strand of DNA.

Within the human body we all have what are referred to as tumor suppressor proteins. These proteins actually act to prevent the development of cancer, or they should. However, in the case of HPV, it too has proteins referred to as oncogenes or cancer causing. The two main proteins are E6 and E7.

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April 21, 2011 - 9:33am
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