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UofL Researchers Tackle Cervical Cancer in India

India has one of the highest rates of cervical cancer deaths in the world, along with some of the most crushing poverty.

Cancer in IndiaThe situation at Chittaranjan National Cancer Center (photo above) in Kolkata, India, is typical. Women with cervical cancer, all of them living in poverty, seek health-care services at the decaying and under funded hospital, but there are only 200 beds and shortages of medicine and technology.

And a vaccine that might help women prevent the disease costs hundreds of dollars—far beyond the population's financial means.

Researchers including UofL's A. Bennett "Ben" Jenson and Shin-je Ghim want to change that by developing an affordable version of a cervical cancer vaccine they developed a few years ago. They are working with a team at the Owensboro Medical Health System led by UofL pharmacology and toxicology associate professor, Kenneth Palmer, to develop a second-generation of the vaccine derived from plants, including tobacco.

The scientists hope that using tobacco plants as drug "factories" could lower the cost of future cancer vaccines, perhaps to only a few dollars per vaccination.

Shin-je Ghim and A. Bennett JensonAlso, Jenson's friend Partha Basu, a cancer doctor at the Chittaranjan hospital, is working with the UofL scientists on an experimental treatment regimen for cervical cancer in India. The regimen includes doses of radiation, vitamin A and protein shots. Eventually, the team hopes to test new vaccines under development.

In the labs in Kentucky, the UofL researchers insert a synthetic gene into tobacco plants with the idea of producing a vaccine to prevent 13 strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) that cause cervical cancer.

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