WHO HPV Reference Laboratory
Cervical cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women worldwide, with about 250'000 deaths per year and 500'000 new cervical cancer cases each year. Virtually all cervical cancers are attributable to infection with a virus belonging to the high-risk subset of human papillomavirus (HPV) types, with HPV16 and HPV18 being the most frequent cancer-associated types (~70%). Prophylactic vaccination against HPV would be an effective strategy to prevent cervical cancer. The leading prophylactic vaccine candidates are subunit HPV like particles (VLP) administered by intramuscular injections. VLPs induce type-specific HPV-neutralizing antibodies and prevent persistent type-specific HPV infection and associated lesions. The two vaccines that are available include VLPs of those two most frequent oncogenic HPVs: HPV16 and HPV18 (Gardasil® from Merck/SPMSD and Cervarix® from GlaxoSmithKline).
The WHO has elected the Institute of Microbiology to serve as a regional/Europe human papillomavirus (HPV) reference laboratory to provide expert technical and theoretical advice in HPV genotyping and in assays of HPV16 / 18 neutralizing antibodies. This is part of the WHO initiative for Vaccine Research (IVR) in relation to the introduction of prophylactic HPV vaccines against cervical cancer.
The reference laboratory is headed by Denise Nardelli Haefliger, who is responsible of a research group on HPV vaccine development, and Roland Sahli, who is in charge of R&D in viral diagnostics and of HPV diagnostics.
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