A researcher from Houston-based Gene By Gene recently participated in a study led by New York University Langone Medical Center revealing that sixty-nine percent of healthy American adults are infected with one or more of the 109 strains of human papillomavirus (HPV). However, only four of the 103 people analyzed had the HPV types that are most dangerous and likely to cause cervical and throat cancers and genital warts.
Most of the viral strains associated with HPV can remain inactive for years and appear to be risk-free, according to the researchers. However, the results suggest a balance of HPV infection in the body, which means different viral strains control each other from spreading. HPV is considered to be the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States, and researchers estimate nearly everyone will contract some form of the virus during their lives.
“Our study offers initial and broad evidence of a seemingly ‘normal’ HPV viral biome in people that does not necessarily cause disease and that could very well mimic the highly varied bacterial environment in the body, or microbiome, which is key to maintaining good health,” declared the senior study investigator and NYU Langone pathologist Zhiheng Pei, MD, PhD.
The patients analyzed registered 109 of the 148 known HPV types, with most of them (61 percent) testing positive for the virus infection on the skin, but also in the vagina (41 percent), mouth (20 percent), and gut (17 percent). None of the 71 study participants had HPV in all four organs tested, and 59 percent had it in only one organ. 31 percent had it in two organs, and 10 percent in three.
In this study, researchers analyzed data publicly available in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Human Microbiome Project. The organization, which is organizing information on microorganisms’ effects on human health, was crucial in supporting this two-year study — believed to be the largest ever attempted. However, investigators believe that further monitoring and research is still needed to determine how non-cancer-causing HPV genotypes interact with the cancer-causing strains, and what causes these strains to trigger the disease. “The HPV ‘community’ in healthy people is surprisingly more vast and complex than previously thought,” Dr. Pei said.
The data analyzed consisted of comprehensive DNA analyses collected trough a decoding technique called shotgun sequencing. Healthy volunteers, between 18 and 80 years old, donated tissue samples. The genetic code of DNA was then translated into a firing pattern to become more perceptible. Researchers removed all human DNA sequences and compared the remaining tissue data with the national databases on HPV, using bioinformatics software developed at NYU.
Researchers note that until further research is conducted and processed, these findings are not necessarily a reason for alarm. However, they suggest that regular visits to physicians or infectious diseases specialists may prevent worsening conditions associated with the virus. Dr. Pei also notes that a vaccine against types 16 and 18 of HPV is available and especially useful for preventing cervical cancer.
In addition to PhD Carlos Nossa at Gene by Gene, in Houston, Texas and Dr. Pei, NYU Langone, the investigation included Yingfei Ma, NYU Langone, Liying Yang, MD, MSc., Ramana Madupu, PhD, Shibu Yoosef, PhD, and Karen Nelson, PhD, at the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Md., and in San Diego, Calif., Ulas Karaoz, PhD, and Eoin Brodie, PhD, at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif., and Patrick Yachimski, MD, at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.
The findings of the study were presented yesterday in Boston at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology. The research was funded through the US NIH Roadmap Initiative’s Human Microbiome Project and the National Cancer Institute, also a member of the NIH, and with additional support from the Office of Research and Development, Veterans Health Administration, at the US Department of Veterans Affairs.