Stanford researchers are using a powerful new interferon cream in experiments to cure a sexually transmitted disease that afflicts more than 1 million Americans and might be linked with cervical cancer.
Researchers at Stanford's University School of Medicine said last week that they are testing interferon, a natural, virus-fighting protein, in an ointment along with a chemical to carry it deeper into the skin for the treatment of a venereal wart condition common in men and women.
The disease is caused by one of about 25 strains of the papilloma virus and consists of wart-like lesions in the genital and anal regions.
The disease has been associated with cervical cancer, is easily spread and difficult to cure, said Dr. Nelson Teng, a gynecologist and obstetrician who heads the research program with Dr. Thomas Merigan.
Merigan said that he thinks the treatment will be effective but that it will take time to prepare it for use.
"We're a step along the trail to proving this process safe and effective," Merigan said.
If the new treatment is successful, it would be more effective and less painful than current therapies of controlling the disease.
"Interferon looks very promising as a potential treatment for venereal warts because it enhances the body's own defense system against viruses and malignant cells," said Barbara Story, a physician assistant and researcher on the project.
Traditional treatments for the warts--chemicals, burning, freezing and surgical removal--are painful and frequently ineffective, she said.
Recent results from studies in Finland using interferon creams to treat venereal warts encouraged the Stanford doctors to test applications of the protein in a gel form, Merigan said.
A chemical in the gel carries the interferon through the skin to reach the viral infection, he said. The researchers are conducting initial studies for six months on 90 women. The volunteers will use the gel three times a day for four weeks.
Interferon can be manufactured by cloning techniques, but it is being used in the test in a natural form taken from red blood cells, Merigan said.
Because so little is used in the ointment, compared to injections, the interferon could be prepared from cells for the ointment even if it eventually becomes widely used, he said.