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PREVENTING DISEASE

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THE ROLE OF SCIENCE

"It is really great for a researcher to be able to play a part in developing a world class public health measure…" —Ian Frazer, 2007

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus easily transmitted during sex. In most women, HPV clears up without treatment and does not cause any lasting problems. For some, the virus can lead to cervical cancer if it is not diagnosed and treated. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved two vaccines against common forms of HPV.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a panel convened by the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, recommends that girls aged eleven and twelve should be vaccinated. This has proven controversial among critics who think this might encourage sexual activity in this age group. It is also too early to predict any long-term health consequences of the vaccines.

Questions remain about providing women around the world with vaccines against HPV. Low-income women who do not have access to medical care are especially at risk for cervical cancer, yet may not be able to afford the vaccine.

Normal cervical cells Normal cervical cells (center)—flat with abundant pink or green cytoplasm and small dark blue nuclei, 1990
Courtesy National Cancer Institute
Precancerous cervical cells Precancerous lesion of the cervix—the cells have large irregular dark blue nuclei with a rim of green-blue cytoplasm, 1990
Courtesy National Cancer Institute
Dr. Ian Frazer in lab Dr. Ian Frazer, chief contributor to the first cervical cancer vaccine, 2007
Courtesy Diamatina Institute for Cancer, Immunology, and Metabolic Medicine, University of Queensland
Scottish scientist Dr. Ian Frazer was the leading researcher on the GARDASIL cervical cancer vaccine. He is based at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, and was named Australian of the Year in 2006 in recognition of his contribution.
Illustration of how vaccines work How Vaccines Work
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Dr. Nubia Muñoz and colleague in lab Dr. Nubia Muñoz, who helped establish the role of human papillomavirus in cervical cancer, circa 2000
Courtesy Nubia Muñoz
Dr. Nubia Muñoz was born in Colombia and has worked around the world including China, Spain, and Iran. At the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France she studied the possibility of a viral cause of cervical cancer. Her work helped pave the way for the development of a vaccine.