Harald zur Hausen studied viruses and discovered that certain strains of the human papilloma virus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease, can cause cervical cancer, in Europe during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Zur Hausen spent his research career identifying the viruses that cause diseases, particularly cancer-causing viruses (oncoviruses). He primarily focused on HPV and cervical cancer. Zur Hausen hypothesized that HPV was cancerous and discovered that two strains, HPV 16 and 18, caused cervical cancer. That discovery led to improved diagnosis of cervical cancer and the later development of the HPV vaccines, Gardasil and Cervarix. In 2008, zur Hausen won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
In 2006, United States pharmaceutical company Merck released the Gardasil vaccination series, which protected recipients against four strains of Human Papillomaviruses, or HPV. HPV is a sexually transmitted infection which may be asymptomatic or cause symptoms such as genital warts, and is linked to cervical, vaginal, vulvar, anal, penile, head, neck, and face cancers. In 2006, based on research conducted by researchers Ian Frazer and Jian Zhou in the 1990s, Merck released a four-strain version of Gardasil, which protected boys and girls aged nine and older against the major HPV strains HPV-6, HPV-11, HPV-16, and HPV-18. In 2014, Merck released Gardasil 9, a nine-strain version that protected from the original four HPV strains plus strains HPV-31, HPV-33, HPV-45, and HPV-58. Gardasil is a preventative measure and reduces the risk of contracting HPV and HPV-related cancers by up to ninety-seven percent.
From 1977 to 1987, Harald zur Hausen led a team of researchers across several institutions in Germany to investigate whether the human papillomavirus (HPV) caused cervical cancer. Zur Hausen's first experiment tested the hypothesis that HPV caused cervical cancer rather than herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), the then accepted cause. His second and third experiments detailed methods to identify two previously unidentified HPV strains, HPV 16 and HPV 18, in cervical cancer tumor samples. The experiments showed that HPV 16 and 18 DNA were present in cervical tumor samples. Zur Hausen concluded that HPV, not HSV-2, caused cervical cancer, which enabled researchers to develop preventions, such as the HPV vaccine.
Ian Hector Frazer studied the human immune system and vaccines in Brisbane, Australia, and helped invent and patent the scientific process and technology behind what later became the human papillomavirus, or HPV, vaccinations. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the US, or CDC, HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection, and can lead to genital warts, as well as cervical, head, mouth, and neck cancers. Frazer and virologist Jian Zhou conducted research in the 1990s to assess why women with HPV had higher rates of precancerous and cancerous cervical cells. Frazer’s research led the pharmaceutical company Merck to produce the Gardasil vaccination series, and GlaxoSmithKline to produce the Cervarix vaccination. Frazer’s research contributed to the development of HPV vaccinations that have been successful in reducing up to seventy percent of cervical cancer cases in women.
Human Papillomavirus, or HPV, is a viral pathogen that most commonly spreads through sexual contact. HPV strains 6 and 11 normally cause genital warts, while HPV strains 16 and 18 commonly cause cervical cancer, which causes cancerous cells to spread in the cervix. Physicians can detect those HPV strains, using a Pap smear, which is a diagnostic test that collects cells from the female cervix.