A virus for good, not evil

A class of viruses commonly found on human skin – low-risk human papillomaviruses (HPV) – may play a role in protecting us from skin cancer, according to new research.

And that would likely explain why multiple studies have failed to find a negative link between HPVs and cancers such as squamous cell carcinoma (SCC).

Writing in the journal Nature, a team led by Shawn Demehri from Massachusetts General Hospital, US, reports finding that “commensal” papillomaviruses – low-risk forms of HPV – appear to have an indirect protective rather than harmful effects against SCC.

This, they say, suggests a novel method for preventing skin cancer using a vaccine based on T cells – the essential immune-system cells that identify other cells as abnormal or foreign and mark them for destruction.

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