Revolutionary Approach to Block a Cancer-Causing Virus

NJMS clinician and researcher Mark Einstein, MD, is principal investigator of a new study examining a revolutionary way to block transmission of human papillomavirus (HPV), the cause of virtually all cervical cancers, using a topical gel applied during sexual activity. The product is a personal lubricant made with a formulation of seaweed extracts commonly referred to as Revocarrageenans.

Positive results of the study would offer women the opportunity to protect themselves and their sexual partners against potentially deadly HPV infection through the simple application of an inexpensive, over-the-counter product.

HPV is transmitted through sexual contact, and nearly 80 million people are infected in the U.S. More than 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year in the U.S., and more than 4,000 of them will die of it. HPV is also linked to cancers of the vagina, vulva, penis, anus, and back of the throat, tongue and tonsils, in men and women.

“More than 80 percent of Americans will be infected with HPV in their lifetime, but in most cases, it never causes symptoms or illness—and certainly not cancer in most people,” says Einstein, who is professor and chair of the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, & Women's Health. “Persistent HPV—an infection that lasts more than 12 months—may be worrisome because the chances of developing disease are much higher when the virus persists.”

In the study, 100 women will be randomly assigned to receive either the lubricant with carrageenans or a lubricant without it. The women are asked to use the lubricant before and after sexual activity. Participants will be tested monthly to determine how effectively lubricant with carrageenans can protect against HPV.

While great progress has been made in creating HPV vaccines, current approaches to prevent infection have limitations. Three HPV vaccines currently on the market provide strong protection against infection. However, the vaccines are effective only in those ages 26 and younger. “Carrageenans in a lubricant is a new approach to prevent HPV infection in those of any age,” says Einstein, who is also assistant dean of the Clinical Research Unit. “If effective, this approach can be a cheap, women-controlled way that can empower women to protect themselves from HPV and cervical cancer.”

The National Cancer Institute-funded study is being conducted jointly by NJMS and Albert Einstein College of Medicine. For more information, contact Randall Teeter at rt502@njms.rutgers.edu.