Harald zur Hausen, born this day in 1936, was the first to demonstrate that certain strains of human papillomavirus (HPV) cause cervical cancer. HPV infections are preventable through vaccination – injecting an innocuous form of virus to produce immunity. Vaccinating against these HPVs offers protection from cancer and in 2008 just as zur Hausen’s work was recognised with a Nobel Prize, a UK vaccination program against HPV for teenage girls began. HPV vaccines are made from viral-like particles (VLPs) – laboratory-made protein ‘coat’ without viral genes. To be effective vaccines they must be easily ‘seen’ by our immune cells. Different colours on this computer model of an HPV-like coat highlight distinct areas of protein that stimulate the immune system. Some regions stimulate immunity better than others, and in striving for better vaccines, researchers are taking steps to ensure that VLPs properly display the regions that mimic the real thing as closely as possible.
Written by Claire Worrall
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.