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Lowy To Discuss Papillomavirus in Mider Talk, Feb. 13 in Masur

By Jennifer Michalowski

Researchers are making progress in the development of a vaccine that could help prevent one of the most common cancers among women worldwide. The vaccine targets human papillomavirus (HPV), a common virus that causes benign and malignant diseases of the skin and mucous membranes. HPV is recognized as the major cause of cervical cancer, which kills more than 200,000 women each year.

At the upcoming G. Burroughs Mider lecture, Dr. Doug Lowy, chief of the Laboratory of Cellular Oncology, NCI, will speak about candidate HPV vaccines that have produced encouraging results in animal studies and early clinical trials. He will present his talk, "Papillomavirus Virus-like Particles: For Vaccines Against HPV and Other Diseases," on Wednesday, Feb. 13 at 3 p.m. in Masur Auditorium, Bldg. 10.

Dr. Doug Lowy

The virus-like particles that Lowy will discuss are based on the outer structure of the papillomavirus. When a papillomavirus replicates inside a host cell, two proteins, L1 and L2, assemble to form a capsid that protects the viral genome. Of these, L1 is the major protein, occurring in each capsid at 30 times the frequency of L2.

In 1992, Lowy, his colleague John Schiller, and others discovered that when the L1 protein is expressed in cells, the protein subunits come together to assemble a structure that is non-infectious, but morphologically indistinguishable from the virus itself. They called these structures virus-like particles (VLPs).

Importantly, VLPs bear enough structural similarity to actual papillomaviruses that the antibodies the body produces against them are the same antibodies that protect against HPV.

Lowy will speak about candidate vaccines composed of VLPs, which have shown excellent protection against papillomavirus-induced disease in animals. HPV VLPs have also been well tolerated and produced strong immune responses in early human trials. Large-scale efficacy trials are planned for the near future.

Lowy will discuss other potential uses for VLPs, as well. Proteins associated with human diseases unrelated to HPV infection can be linked to papillomavirus-like particles. These VLPs can then be used as vaccines to induce autoantibodies against the disease.

Lowy has made considerable contributions to the current understanding of papillomaviruses. He has served on a wide range of editorial and advisory boards and consults on papillomavirus vaccines for the World Health Organization. The Institute for Scientific Information lists him as a highly cited researcher in the microbiology field. And he has received a number of awards for his research, including several Public Health Service awards and an NIH Director's Award.

Lowy received his M.D. from New York University and trained in internal medicine at Stanford University and dermatology at Yale University. He is board-certified in both specialties.

He began work at NIH in 1970 as a research associate in the laboratory of Wallace Rowe, where he studied mouse retroviruses. After a 2-year absence from NIH to obtain residency training, Lowy came to NCI in 1975, joining the Dermatology Branch as a senior investigator. His work on mouse retroviruses was gradually replaced by research on ras oncogenes and papillomaviruses. In 1995, he was named deputy director of the Division of Basic Sciences and Center for Cancer Research.

The G. Burroughs Mider Lecture is an NIH Director's Wednesday Afternoon Lecture Series event. For information and accommodation, contact Hilda Madine, 594-5595.

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