Research

An Unexpected Threat to HPV

A nutritional supplement derived from mushrooms shows promise in treating the incurable cancer-causing virus


Judith A. Smith_UTHealth_007-RE
By Shea Connelly | December 3, 2014

Human papillomavirus, or HPV, is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States, affecting between 60 and 80 percent of sexually active adults. Despite its prevalence, there is no cure. A study at The University of Texas Health Science Center (UTHealth) Medical School at Houston, however, could provide hope for people with HPV. It comes in the form of a pill containing an extract derived from an unusual source: mushrooms.

The extract, Active Hexose Correlated Compound (AHCC), comes from shiitake mushrooms and is a readily available nutritional supplement. It has been used to relieve side effects of chemotherapy, which is what originally interested Judith A. Smith, Pharm.D., associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at UTHealth Medical School. Smith began studying AHCC a decade ago.

“From a pharmacology perspective, I wanted to rule out any potential drug interactions with chemotherapy,” said Smith. “We then observed some antitumor effects and started digging deeper and learning more about its immune modulating effects.”

Smith and her team spent two years completing in vitro studies showing the effects of AHCC on HPV, largely because they were so taken aback by the results.

“We had a lot of healthy skeptics, and I’ve probably been the biggest of those skeptics. How could this nutritional supplement possibly eradicate one of the most difficult viruses we’ve been challenged with in the cancer arena?” said Smith.

There is no known cure for HPV, and strains of the virus also cause cancer, including cervical cancer, the second most common in women. Without a cure, women infected with HPV are left to wait and see if they develop cancer.

“If they’re tested and we tell them they’re positive, right now there’s nothing we can do. We say, ‘We’ll check you in another year,’” said Smith. “When HPV testing became approved and recommended, I thought, ‘Wow, how frustrating for women.’ It creates a lot of anxiety and feelings of lack of control.”

“We had a lot of healthy skeptics, and I’ve probably been the biggest of those skeptics. How could this nutritional supplement eradicate one of the most difficult viruses we’ve been challenged with in the cancer arena?” — Judith A. Smith, Pharm. D., associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at The University of Texas Health Science Center (UTHealth) Medical School at Houston

Vaccines against HPV are available, but the low vaccination rate and the number of people beyond the age of vaccination mean vast numbers of women are infected and left in limbo.

The lack of options inspired Smith to begin researching HPV a decade ago. Despite the success of the in vitro studies, however, she and her team were not convinced of the possible positive effects of AHCC on HPV.

“We did mouse studies and, again, repeated the mouse studies in two models,” said Smith. “We were able to treat with AHCC and eradicate the HPV, then stop treatment and see a durable response.”

That response was key to determining whether AHCC could be truly effective in treating HPV—it wouldn’t just suppress the virus, but eradicate it. Data from a third animal study enabled Smith and her team to tackle the next hurdle: testing the efficacy of AHCC in human patients. Thanks to philanthropic funds, they were able to complete a pilot study treating ten women with the nutritional supplement.

Each of the women in the pilot study was over 30 and had HPV positive persistent infections, meaning they had been infected for 18 months or more. None of the women had cancerous lesions. A main objective of the pilot study was to determine dosage and length of treatment.

Three patients showed complete eradication after stopping AHCC. Two have yet to complete their courses of AHCC, but have tested HPV negative. The remaining patients stopped taking AHCC before testing completely negative. The next step would be a Phase II double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial to confirm the early results of the pilot study.

The regimen they determined involves taking three grams of AHCC on an empty stomach once a day for up to five months. It’s a course of treatment Smith gladly shares.

“It’s definitely in the category of ‘it won’t hurt you,’” said Smith. “Will it definitely help you? I can’t tell you that. I’m not in any position, nor do we have the data, to say yes. We’re not there yet, but we’re trying to get there.”

The success of AHCC so far has been a happy surprise. “We had been looking at this the whole time going, ‘If this works, the potential is huge,’” said Smith. “And now ten years later, the potential could be more than I envisioned.”

Should AHCC studies continue to bring positive results, Smith’s vision is to make the treatment available to as many women as possible, eliminating that limbo between HPV infection and possible cancer diagnosis.

“If further studies confirm our early findings, my ultimate goal would be to be able to find the financial means to support bringing this to underserved patients throughout the world, and here in Texas. That’s where the HPV virus in women with no access to health care is kind of a perfect storm as to why people end up with cancer,” said Smith. “I really want to help those patients.”




Social Posts

profile_image

MD Anderson Cancer Center

@MDAndersonNews

The three focus areas of our Prostate #CancerMoonshot: - overcoming treatment resistance - exploring #immunotherapy - understanding the tumor environment Learn more: https://t.co/0ZQCm8tMdR #PCSM #endcancer

4 hours ago
profile_image

Rice University

@RiceUniversity

The @GlasscockSchool's fall course catalog is chock-full of offerings for ever-curious learners, including classes in the humanities and sciences, foreign languages and personal and professional development. https://t.co/A793BrcLfz https://t.co/8a1K8LbHE2

4 hours ago
profile_image

Veterans Affairs

@DeptVetAffairs

Last Shasta County Navy Veteran who survived Pearl Harbor attack laid to rest https://t.co/lc5ODzbk9l via @JimSchultz_RS

5 hours ago
profile_image

BCMHouston

@bcmhouston

One internal medicine resident looks back at a time where a patient helped him realize the balance of overly identifying with patients and complete detachment. https://t.co/7xsFWEhVc4

5 hours ago
profile_image

Veterans Affairs

@DeptVetAffairs

Santa Clarita Air Force Veteran Launches Campaign For Web Series To Depict Modern Soldier Life https://t.co/Td0ds3jxue via @KHTSRADIO

6 hours ago
profile_image

Veterans Affairs

@DeptVetAffairs

Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is @USArmy Veteran Stanley Nelson. https://t.co/SHml8yEysj

6 hours ago
profile_image

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

VeteransAffairs

Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Army Veteran Stanley Nelson. Stanley served from 1949 to 1952.Stanley, from Otwell, Indiana in Pike County, joined the Army in 1949 and completed training at Fort Knox. He was sent to Japan and in 1950 was assigned to the 8th Engineer Combat Battalion, 1st Calvary in Korea during the Korean War. On February 14, 1951, Stanley was defending the flank of advancing soldiers near Chipyong in modern-day South Korea. He was wounded by small arms fire in the right shoulder, right foot, left leg and left foot. Stanley was left incapacitated and was captured by the enemy.Stanley endured torture and difficult conditions while held prisoner and was left to die. However, American forces discovered him and evacuated him for medical treatment. The lower part of Stanley’s leg was amputated the following month and he recovered at Percy James Army Hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan. He was medically retired on January 31, 1952.Thank you for your service, Stanley!

6 hours ago
profile_image

UTHealth

@UTHealth

Thank you @MBThewoodlands for supporting student scholarships at @MDA_UTHGrad! It also is hosting our next House Calls web chat on sports medicine this Thursday, July 19, at 6:30 p.m. CST at https://t.co/N5UU1Jx4pq. Submit a question for our experts by using #UTHealthHouseCalls.

6 hours ago
profile_image

UTHealth

@UTHealth

RT @abc13houston: The most common sports injuries are strains and sprains, but do you know when you might need to see a doctor? The experts…

7 hours ago
profile_image

BCMHouston

@bcmhouston

RT @BCMHouston_News: Tune in to @FOX26Houston tomorrow in the 8 am hour to hear @bcmhouston's Dr. El-Serag discuss the recent CDC report on…

7 hours ago
profile_image

MD Anderson Cancer Center

@MDAndersonNews

#Cancerpain can be related to the disease and treatment. Hear from Dr. Salahadin Abdi on how patients can find relief. #endcancer https://t.co/snFVjDUjNe

8 hours ago
profile_image

TexasHeartInstitute

@Texas_Heart

RT @HealthyWomen: 10 Sneaky Ways to Get Fruits and Veggies in Your #Diet: https://t.co/wJ9x39147k #health https://t.co/EWktCmct2J

8 hours ago
profile_image

BCMHouston

@bcmhouston

RT @BCMHouston_News: Certain nail products can cause allergic reactions or irritations. @bcmhouston's Dr. Katta shares what to look out for…

8 hours ago
profile_image

MD Anderson Cancer Center

@MDAndersonNews

@ParrotsMatter @TargetedOnc @michaelwangmd Hi, yes we are. Here's a list of current clinical trials: https://t.co/JgHpaIKBbX. Best wishes to you.

8 hours ago
profile_image

Rice University

@RiceUniversity

RT @RiceAthletics: To celebrate #WorldEmojiDay, check out our favorite mascot @SammyTheOwl! 🦉👐 https://t.co/ebIKcsu2Z9

9 hours ago