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

Veterans Affairs

@DeptVetAffairs

Finding the right therapist is an important part of the treatment process. Some Veterans feel their therapist is a good fit right away. Others try more than one before they find a comfortable match. Visit https://t.co/zGZWc54hWo to hear stories of recovery from Veterans. https://t.co/AKt3HMoeKq

4 hours ago
profile_image

Veterans Affairs

@DeptVetAffairs

.@VAResearch "Spotlight" highlights the work that @VeteransHealth researchers are doing to better understand #infectiousdiseases in #Veterans https://t.co/LpRsHP1rPd https://t.co/RR3lDuU1sZ

8 hours ago
profile_image

MD Anderson Cancer Center

@MDAndersonNews

DYK MD Anderson is one of the few cancer treatment centers in the nation that offers targeted therapy for certain types of #ovariancancer? Learn more, including four other treatment options: https://t.co/rpkXGREki5 #CancerMoonshot #endcancer https://t.co/Z3mYWGOygd

9 hours ago
profile_image

Veterans Affairs

@DeptVetAffairs

Veterans’ stories: ‘Months of routine and moments of terror’ https://t.co/8ehdhFwrbI via @EverettHerald

10 hours ago
profile_image

BCMHouston

@bcmhouston

There are only two weeks left to secure your Baylor College of Medicine team shirt for our @komenhouston Race for the Cure team. Sign up online before Sept. 6 to get yours. https://t.co/D4xBbtJ6Hd #KomenHouston #RaceForTheCure https://t.co/ziiOTXXmGO

10 hours ago
profile_image

MD Anderson Cancer Center

@MDAndersonNews

“The reality is that palliative care is supportive care — it’s symptom management at any stage of illness,” says our @IshwariaMD: https://t.co/f8YECXYH6i @cure_magazine #hpm #endcancer

10 hours ago
profile_image

UTHealth

@UTHealth

7 Signs of Iron Deficiency You Might Be Ignoring: https://t.co/DhMLEmE1Xv

12 hours ago
profile_image

UTHealth

@UTHealth

Working with @CLI_UTHealth, Cypress childcare center becomes model for educational training material: https://t.co/0HNYKcLool

12 hours ago
profile_image

MD Anderson Cancer Center

@MDAndersonNews

Our friends at @HEB are supporting our mission to #endcancer. Through Sept. 10, their customers can add a $1, $3 or $5 donation to MD Anderson at checkout.100% of funds raised will go towards #cancer research, prevention and education. https://t.co/xdf2e7ZAKP

12 hours ago
profile_image

Rice University

@RiceUniversity

@RTRFND This was a mock-up but we will make sure to pass on your request to the bookstore for a potential future project.

13 hours ago
profile_image

University of Houston

@UHouston

RT @SpiritofUH: We’re hyped for Cage Rage, what about you??? See y’all tonight at 7! #GoCoogs https://t.co/tSQsZSKhRV

13 hours ago
profile_image

BCMHouston

@bcmhouston

Have you visited our new job listing website? Learn about our current openings. https://t.co/q5KcAveHbj #careers https://t.co/wEswZ2uI8a

14 hours ago
profile_image

Texas Children's

@TexasChildrens

Join us for Professional Day 2019: Evidence-Based Approaches to Care in Pediatrics and Obstetrics. Learn more: https://t.co/zQDgNBxfci #TCHProfDay #Nursing

15 hours ago
profile_image

BCMHouston

@bcmhouston

Thank you to everyone who joined us at the #HurricaneHarvey: Two Years After Symposium yesterday! A special thank you to all of our presenters, and to our special guests, Mayor @SylvesterTurner and Judge @EdEmmett. View more photos on our Facebook page. https://t.co/hqUkFJxYpC https://t.co/s8aij3SXmG

15 hours ago
profile_image

TexasHeartInstitute

@Texas_Heart

RT @asaiojournal: Long-Term Continuous-Flow Left Ventricular Assist Device Support After Left Ventricular Outflow Tract Closure https://t.c…

15 hours ago