Can Algae Prevent HPV?

McGill Study Thinks That Carrageenan May Slow Spread of Virus

Dr. Eduardo Franco, the director of cancer epidemiology at McGill University, led the study. Courtesy Eduardo Franco

A research team at McGill University recently showed that red algae could be used to prevent human papillomavirus. Sindy Magnan, one of the PhD students working on the study, is very excited about the potential of the findings.

The research found a 40 per cent reduction in overall instances of HPV among participants and an almost 60 per cent reduction in key strains of the virus that are known to cause cervical cancer. The team unveiled the preliminary results of their study at the International Papillomavirus Conference held in Cape Town, South Africa.

The study focused on how carrageenan—a non-toxic substance found in red algae and often used in food manufacturing—could be used to prevent the spread of HPV and clear up ongoing infections.

So far, 214 women have taken part in the study after being split into two groups. The control group received a lubricant gel that did not contain carrageenan, while the experiment group was given one that did. Women then followed up with researchers several times over the course of a year to track their results.

Dr. Eduardo Franco, the director of cancer epidemiology at McGill University, led the study. Franco’s trailblazing work on the study of HPV has left a lasting impact on what research communities know today.

His research spans three decades, and he was one of the researchers who helped show the causal link between HPV and cervical cancer. The main scope of his research has revolved around the prevention of the spread of the virus, and working on new methods to screen for precancerous lesions.

According to Dr. Franco, a cost efficient and safe way to prevent the spread of HPV will play a large role in limiting the occurrence of cervical cancer.

As of now, the best way to protect against HPV is through the use of vaccines such as Gardasil. But while they’re extremely effective, they don’t prevent all of the 120 known HPV strains. Currently, the standard vaccine only protects against nine of them. It’s still a major improvement over the previous vaccine, which only protected against four, said Franco.

HPV is still a major problem in developing countries where the high cost for treatment renders them inaccessible for many, he explained.

While more research still needs to be done, the study has shown carrageenan to be effective for all strains of HPV—and because of its low cost, it could be a possible alternative for countries that are unable to provide widespread vaccination.

The research team is currently hoping to finish the study, which will account for samples from 500 women within the next two years. They will also be testing the hypothesis that using carrageenan gel can prevent the spread of a previous infection and make it possible for an individual’s own immune system to deal with the virus.

Dr. Franco is hoping to extend the research to a number of other areas such as the effectiveness of carrageenan gel in conjunction with condoms for preventing HPV.

He’s “cautiously optimistic” about the study, but so far believes that it has shown very promising results. He is also involved with a separate study, which is providing carrageenan gel to gay men. It is Franco’s hope that they will find similar results and also test to see if HIV can hinder the effectiveness of carrageenan gel.