Understanding the lifecycle of HPV infections to determine how they can lead to head and neck cancer

Human papillomavirus (HPV) predominantly causes cervical cancer. However, we now know that HPV also causes a subset of head and neck cancers, particularly in younger men.  The disease is often diagnosed very late, and treatment can be extremely debilitating for the patient.

It is not yet understood how HPV causes head and neck cancer (HNC). This project intends to understand the lifecycle and development of HPV infections within the mouth to determine how HPV causes head and neck cancer, in order to develop new treatments.

The team have a clinical study with University Hospitals Derby and Burton that recruits patients who are routinely having their tonsils removed, and collects both tonsils, a mouth swab, and a questionnaire related to lifestyle behaviours thought to be risk factors for this disease.

Tonsils will be examined (the site of HPV-positive cancer) for HPV infections and disease, and identify any pre-cancerous changes which may act as predictive biomarkers of dangerous HPV infections that could influence the development of cancer.

The team will describe the HPV lifecycle and characterise the disease within the tonsil to examine how infections lead to cancer, whether biomarkers can be identified which predict cancer, and whether infections are influenced by lifestyle.  This work will inform intervention strategies for the disease, and may also identify new candidates for treatment, leading to improved outcomes for patients.

This project will also describe the influence of lifestyle behaviours upon high risk oral HPV infections, and these data may lead to educational and publicity campaigns from government bodies and charities to target at-risk populations identified through this project.  Such campaigns would raise awareness of the disease and promote behavioural changes to reduce disease burden, and could be implemented within one to three years.

Blood for HPV test

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Mary-Anne Freckleton

Project type:
PhD Studentship

Project Leader:
Dr Elizabeth Marsh

Researcher:
Mary-Anne Freckleton (pictured left)

Commencement date:
January 2021

Length of project:
3 years

Funding provided:
£102,234

Funder:
Oracle Cancer Trust

Location:
University of Derby

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