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University Relations

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June 27, 2006
Contact: Brandis Griffith, University Relations, (785) 864-8855.

KU was test site for groundbreaking cervical cancer vaccine

LAWRENCE — Health care workers at the University of Kansas’ Student Health Services knew that their years of research had paid off when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration this month approved the vaccine against cervical cancer, GARDASIL.

Henry William Buck, a retired gynecologist from Student Health Services, led testing in 1999 when KU’s Lawrence campus served as one of 17 test sites for the vaccine against Human Papillomavirus 16, one of the high-risk cancer-causing types of virus. Sixty students served as subjects during the four-year research project.

“It’s going to go down with polio as a major advance and probably lead the way toward vaccinations for other cancers,” Buck said. “We just don’t know yet which ones those are.”

In the United States, there are approximately 100,000 incidents of cervical cancer a year. On average, the disease kills 10 women a day. Worldwide, it causes 240,000 deaths per year and is the second most common cancer death for women.

At the time, Buck was serving on the American College Health Association’s Task Force on HPV when Merck solicited his help and that of KU’s Student Health Services. By then, Buck had studied the virus for 11 years.

Buck said most of the test sites for the vaccine were at colleges because of the prevalence of HPV among the college population. The rate of abnormal pap smears in college health is about 10 percent, he said, twice the rate for the total female population.

“It’s estimated there are at least 1 million new cases a year of external genital warts in this country,” he said. “And we certainly saw our share and are still seeing our share at Watkins (Health Center).”

Buck said that during the trial period, initial results did not return for 2 1/2 to 3 years. But when they did, he and other researchers were surprised with what was found.

“You hope that it’s going to be good,” said Kathy Guth, nurse practitioner in women’s health at Watkins Memorial Health Center. “But when you come up to around 98 percent effective rate or higher, that’s outstanding.”

Guth served as the No. 2 investigator on the trial.

“When we started out doing the study, we didn’t have any idea how well this was going to work,” Buck said. “I’m not sure that we’re all that accustomed to finding things that work as well as this, so it’s been a real exciting thing to be involved in.”

Worldwide, 40,000 people received the vaccine during the trial period. GARDASIL is also approved to vaccinate against cancers, pre-cancers and genital warts caused by several types of HPV.

Buck said he anticipates the medical community welcoming the new vaccine and thinks it should be incorporated into most vaccination programs.

Where it’s needed the most, he said, is in third-world countries.

“They’re basically the populations that aren’t getting pap smears; you could accomplish a lot of cervical cancer control if you were getting pap smears in those areas,” he said.

The GARDASIL vaccination is delivered in three shots at a cost of $120 each. Buck says that cost does not include the provider’s fee.

GARDASIL is expected to be available nationwide by the end of June.


The University of Kansas is a major comprehensive research and teaching university. University Relations is the central public relations office for KU's Lawrence campus. | (785) 864-3256 | 1314 Jayhawk Blvd., Lawrence, KS 66045