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‘Largest grant of its kind’

The National Institute of Health awarded a grant — the largest grant of its kind, at $10 million — to Dr. Anna Giuliano, to facilitate her upcoming research on men’s role in the transmission of the human papilloma virus (HPV).

Giuliano is a researcher and oncologist at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute, which is the source of the study. The research calls for 3,000 male volunteers, ages 18-44, to participate in a blind four-year study to observe how common the disease is in men. Giuliano’s main interest involves “understanding dynamics of the disease (which) will help us understand the potential transmission to women,” she said at a press conference Monday.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the world. Thirty percent of young women are infected with HPV, whereas, for example, only 6 percent of women are infected with Chlamydia. HPV is the disease responsible for cervical cancer in women, genital warts in both genders and other cancers in men.

Giuliano said her team of researchers are seeking “the natural history of the infection without intervention.”

Giuliano has established three observation sites: one in Tampa, one in Mexico and one in Brazil. According to Giuliano, who is Moffitt’s program leader for risk assessment, detection, and intervention, Latin American countries are at high risk for cervical cancer stemming from HPV. Approximately 47,250 people in Mexico contract HPV every year, Giuliano said, which creates a concern because “many of our new immigrant populations” arrive from Mexico and other Latin American countries.

There is a vaccine for women in the testing phase, according to Giuliano. The vaccine is not a live vaccine like the chicken pox vaccine, which introduces a small amount of a disease into the bloodstream so that the immune system will create antibodies. This vaccine is a protein shell of the actual virus, so the patient isn’t susceptible to HPV and is still protected from transmitting it.

The U.S. health care system is responsible for protecting the United States from the infection rate Latin America experiences, according to Giuliano.

“The Pap smear is our best weapon against cervical cancer,” she said. But a Pap smear — along with the follow-up diagnostics and treatments — is very expensive in Latin American countries. So while researchers are testing a preventative vaccine, Giuliano said, “We still have to be vigilant toward regular Pap smear screening.”

Giuliano warns students that there is no cure for HPV, and there is no evidence that condom use prevents transmission of the disease. Studies have shown, however, that women who use tobacco and maintain an unfavorable nutritional status are more at risk for developing the more harmful symptoms of the virus.

A shorter duration of infection is achieved by lessening tobacco use, Giuliano said.Giuliano and her team are still searching for male volunteers for two studies. Those interested are encouraged to call (813) 745-6996 for more information on volunteer options.

“Volunteers are the only way we’ll be able to answer our questions,” Giuliano said.