Montreal Gazette (01.08.13)
Eduardo Franco, director of McGill University’s cancer epidemiology division, and colleagues will conduct a study of sea-algae extract to determine whether it can be used in a topical gel to prevent human papillomavirus (HPV) transmission. The seaweed extract, carrageenan, is used commercially as a thickener and has been found to inhibit transmission of HPV, the virus that causes cervical cancer.
Throughout the next year, 465 sexually active university-age women will participate in a clinical trial of the seaweed extract. They will be asked to apply a gel before sex. One-half of them will receive the gel with the active ingredient and the other half will receive a placebo. Participants will be continually monitored to determine if the gel prevents transmission. If a participant already has HPV, the researchers will monitor whether the gel prevents the virus from spreading to a wider area and whether it prevents the individual from contracting new strains.
In 2010, a McGill study noted that 56 percent of young adults in a new sexual relationship were infected with HPV and 44 percent of them were infected with a type of HPV that causes cancer. Although there are vaccines to prevent HPV, Franco noted that they are only effective against four of the more than 40 types of the virus. Also, the vaccines are very expensive in developing countries, which have the highest rates of cancer. If the trial is successful, the extract will provide a cheap solution, Franco added.
Franco said that if the trial is successful, the researchers will conduct larger trials with subjects in different age groups. Other considerations include the use of the extract as condom lubricant and mixed with gargle solution to prevent transmission during oral sex.
The Canadian Institutes of Health Research is funding this trial. Women interested in participating are asked to contact Allita Rodrigues at email@example.com. For more information, visit www.mcgill.ca/catch/.