Throughout much of the 20th century, scientists suspected that sexually transmitted infections cause cancer of the cervix. But the culprit remained hidden until 2 decades ago, when scientists isolated human papillomavirus (HPV) DNA from cervical tumors.
That discovery is now paying dividends. In the Nov. 21 New England Journal of Medicine, a team of U.S. scientists reports that a vaccine fashioned from an HPV protein protects women from long-term viral infections that can lead to cervical cancer.
"This is an amazing accomplishment," says medical geneticist Robert D. Burk of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. "It represents what modern molecular genetics can do."
Scientists at Merck Research Laboratories in West Point, Pa., made the vaccine by mass-producing one of two proteins that form a shell around a virus called HPV-16. This virus type is found i