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Medical study pays off for students

One syringe contains a vaccine, another a placebo. USF senior Brandon Gogue won’t know which one was given to him for three years.

Gogue is one of about 100 USF male students who has submitted blood and genital-swab samples for three H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center studies into the Human Papillomavirus. One of the studies requires applicants to be injected with a vaccine, which researchers say could aide in the fight against cervical cancer in women. For their troubles, students are paid.

“You can make about $600 over three years,” said Gogue, who returned for a third injection on Wednesday. “The first time I went I got $125, the second time, I got $50. They took swabs around the head of my penis and in my rectum. Then they put me under a big magnifying glass in order to check my genitals for any noticeable signs of HPV.”

One of the most common sexually transmitted diseases, HPV affects some 20 million people in the U.S. According to the National Institute of Health, out of the 100 types of HPV that exists, 30 can be contracted through sexual intercourse.

HPV is the virus responsible for warts, but many people infected with HPV have no symptoms.

“HPV is so common, all it takes is to have sex just one time and you can get the infection,” said cancer epidemiologist Anna Giuliano, who is heading the study at Moffitt. “I think it’s important to realize that HPV is not like HIV or other STDs, where most often the people who contract these diseases and infections are usually the type of people who come from a high-risk group. This is not the case with HPV, because it affects normal everyday people.”

Recruitment for the vaccine study began last year in December, but researchers are looking for another 50 healthy men aged 18 to 23. “We are looking for a selection of 4,000 for this world-wide study,” said project director Martha Abrahamsen. “We already have recruited 80 percent of our ideal group from 40 different sites.”

Volunteers for the study can set up an appointment where they will fill out paper work and give details of their medical and sexual history via a confidential computer database.

“All the information will go to the Moffitt data bank,” Abrahamsen said. “If a guy answers that he’s had 100 sexual partners, we won’t know because we won’t be able to access his name.”

For Gogue, the amount of time, energy and awkwardness that comes with taking part was minimal.

“The first day I was there for an hour to an hour and a half,” Gogue said. “After they gave me the shot, I had to wait 30 minutes for doctors to check my temperature and swelling in my arm. Afterwards I was given the number of the doctor at the place to call if anything came up.”

A further requirement is that subjects must maintain a weekly chart.

“You’re supposed to write down your temperature, if you’re feeling any pain, what medications you’re taking,” criminology student Evan Beck said. “They just want to know whatever happens, because it may or may not be from the shot.”

The most common side effects of receiving the vaccine, according to Giuliano, are a mild pain in the arm where the shot was administered and headaches.

As an added incentive, Abrahamsen said volunteers in the study would also be told whether they have HPV or other STDs.

“We can test you and we’ll tell you if you have it,” Abrahamsen said. “We also test for other STDs for free. We can treat you if you have a wart, but remember the virus is in your body, like herpes; there’s no cure, but we can give you cream, or we can freeze or take a biopsy to get rid of the growth.”

Only some types of HPV are responsible for genital warts, whereas the most threatening types, not associated with genital warts, can lead to cervical cancer.

“It’s the number-two cancer killer for women in the world,” said cancer epidemiologist Anna Giuliano, who is heading the study at Moffitt. “It is especially a threat to those countries where PAP-smear screenings are not as common or available as they are in the U.S. “

The vaccination, known as GARDASIL, is similar to the Hepatitis vaccination in that it consists of three shots spaced over several months.

According to Giuliano, studies have shown that GARDASIL is 92 percent effective in preventing HPV infections in women.

Vaccine trials for women have been underway for several years, and GARDASIL is expected to be on the market soon.

“The women’s vaccine was proven safe, and it should be on the market sometime next year,” Abrahamsen said.

This same vaccine is now undergoing trials in men. The pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. is backing the trials for the vaccine.

Additionally, Giuliano said Florida might be more vulnerable to cases of HPV then in other states, due to the high traffic of people coming in from overseas.

“When we look at Florida, we have a lot of people coming in every day from all over the world,” Guiliano said. “Naturally, we have a lot of people coming in from these areas who are not accustomed to getting PAP smears.”

Giuliano added that young people are especially susceptible to HPV.

“Over a period of four years, 70 percent of women and a comparable percentage of men in their 20s will contract the HPV virus,” Giuliano said. “That is why it’s so important for the university population to understand what HPV is and what they can do to protect themselves and their partners.”