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UNM Cancer Researcher Awarded Grants To Study HPV

Michelle Ozbun, PhD, holds a model of the human papilloma virus particle.

HPV, or human papilloma virus, is the most commonly contracted sexually transmitted infection but little is known about the way it works. As Public Health New Mexico’s Sarah Trujillo reports, local researchers won two grants to study the virus and design new ways to measure and treat infections. 

HPV affects about 79 million Americans every year – both men and women – but Michelle Ozbun says the virus is a tricky one. She’s with the University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center. Ozbun says HPV may behave a lot like herpes, which can simply hide for years and then abruptly flare up.

“We sort of think that HPV does that as well but they’re very different in the way that they ultimately affect the cell,” Ozbun says, “One kills the cell and one tells the cell keep multiplying keep multiplying.”

When HPV causes cells to multiply, that can turn into cancer. And that’s why, Ozbun says, it’s essential that girls and boys get the vaccine between the ages of 8 and 14, before becoming sexually active. The two grants, from Johnson & Johnson and the National Institutes of Health, total $2.7 million.


KUNM’s Public Health New Mexico project is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the McCune Charitable Foundation.

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