As part of the Darwin Bicentennial Lecture Series at Appalachian State University, Dr. Paul Ewald, author of Plague Time: The New Germ Theory of Disease, recently gave a presentation on the genetic basis of cancer. During the lecture, Dr Ewald spent a considerable amount of time discussing the role of infectious agents, specifically viruses, as the causative agents of cancer. Specifically, Dr Ewald talked about the human papillomavirus (HPV), and how screening of seemingly unrelated cancers, such as breast cancer and cancers of the head and neck, are linking this virus as a potentially more important agent in cancer formation than previously thought.

If infectious agents are responsible for priming cells to enter into a tumor-forming stage, as Dr Ewald's work strongly suggests, then the use of vaccines against these agents could be a major advance in the evolution of preventative strategies against cancer. HPV vaccines are already recommended for young women to prevent against cervical cancer later in life. Now it appears that these vaccines may have potential benefits in other areas as well.

Interestingly, a recent article in Science Daily (Genetic Markers for Aggressive Head and Neck Cancers) presents data from a study at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine that a specific type of genetic markers, called microRNAs, may be used to identify individuals who are highly susceptible to forms of head and neck cancer. The researchers in this study propose that genetic screening may be useful in the development of new treatments for these cancers.

Is is possible that the microRNA markers identified by the team at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine are actually indicating susceptibility to the HPV virus? We know that everyone who carries HPV does not necessarily develop cancer, but the reason why is not yet clear. It could be that a genetic susceptibility is the key. Certain genetic combinations could promote HPV influence, and result in the formation of the cancer phenotype. If this is the case, then trials of using the HPV vaccine on individuals who have these specific microRNA markers are definitely in order. This could provide some very useful insights on new
treatments of specific types of cancers, specifically those that have been identified to be associated with an infectious agent.