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Virologist Advocates Vaccinating Only Boys for HPV to Prevent Cervical Cancer

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LINDAU, Germany—A vaccine to prevent infections of cancer-causing human papilloma virus (HPV) is currently approved for use in the U.S. in boys and girls and in the U.K. in girls. The U.S. public health campaign focuses on vaccinating girls. The virologist who won a Nobel Prize for confirming that HPV causes cervical cancer supports educational efforts to help parents understand the importance of vaccinating girls. But he actually suggests a step further.

"I would say something a little more controversial," Harald zur Hausen said June 29 in a discussion here with two graduate students who met with him for a conversation filmed by a Nature video crew (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group). "If you only vaccinate boys, you would have a better result than if you only vaccinate girls. Boys are a little more active than girls."

He acknowledged, however, that his thinking might be a bit utopian. (Cervical cancer kills 250,000 girls and women every year worldwide, and is the second leading cause of cancer death in women.)

The conversation included Jan Gralton, who is finishing her dissertation on rhinoviruses at the University of New South Wales in Australia, and Sven-Eric Schelhorn, a bioinformaticist who works on dynamics modeling for HCV and HIV at the Max-Planck Institute for Informatics. The students were among more than 500 selected to participate in this week’s Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, giving them the opportunity to hear lectures by and gain career tips from more than 20 Nobel prize-winners.

The hour-long conversation covered topics ranging from zur Hausen’s contention that an unknown virus in beef might be causing colorectal cancer (the correlation is already supported by research in the past few decades), his research investigating further links between viruses and cancers, points of connection among all three scientists’ work, informed consent and other ethical issues around vaccines, the possibility that viruses might be commensal in the same way that some bacteria are, and where the field of cancer research is headed.

Below are some behind-the-scenes images of the shoot. Stay tuned this fall for a video of more highlights from this conversation.

The shoot took place in the breakfast room at Hotel Lindenallee, named for this incredible arcade of linden trees nearby (below).


Steadicam operator Andy Johnson discussed an opening shot with Charlotte Stoddart (center, below), who directed the video, and crew member Lilley Mitchell.


A light rain fell as Harald zur Hausen arrived and was escorted to the breakfast room by Jan Gralton (left, below) and Sven Schelhorn.


Crew member Lilley Mitchell (below, right) applied some finishing touches before the shoot got under way.


Crew member Azi Khatiri (below and next to two light stands) checked the sound on the scientists’ microphones.


The conversation started, with three cameras rolling.


Steadicam operator Andy Johnson wore a brace to help him manipulate the weighted camera and capture some dynamic shots of the conversation.


Charlotte Stoddart consulted silently on a shot with Andy Johnson as the conversation continued.


Jan Gralton continued the conversation with Harald zur Hausen after the shoot concluded.


Crew member Azi Khatiri (right, below) wraps up some paperwork with Harald zur Hausen.


The crew wrapped the set and prepared for the rest of their shoots for the remainder of the week-long conference, as the scientists left the Hotel Lindenallee and headed to their lodgings.


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  1. 1. jgrosay 2:05 pm 07/1/2011

    A very wise proposal, men are the ones that transmit HPV to women (Well, at least most of the times), and a way to avoid the transmission of that disease, as well as pregnancy, another male induced event, is to act on the active part of the transmission chain, however, I heard many years ago a girl saying "The woman is the one who must take care, as she is the one who gets pregnant". I remember also the times where some London boys weared a male sign with an interruption in the continuity of the circle, trying to indicate women that they had received vasectomy, and thus can have sex without pregnancy. Other guys, when they saw that wearing that sign represented some advantage to mate some girls, just bought the sign, but never had a vasectomy. I have no data on the results of these peculiar practices, but the concept expressed in the article may have its own drawbacks. Salut +

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  2. 2. HubertB 9:11 pm 07/5/2011

    Not all vaccines are 100% effective. The vaccine requires a booster at age 20. That indicates it wears out. Any vaccination program will miss some people. Young ladies will have sex with infected sugar daddies. Both boys and girls will have sex with people from other countries where people may not use the vaccine.
    For best results both boys and girls should be vaccinated.

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