Study tests new vaccine for precancerous cervical cells

Vanderbilt University Medical Center is participating in an international study to determine the effectiveness of a new therapeutic vaccine for treating women with precancerous changes on the cervix.

These precancerous lesions, also called dysplasia or cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN), are caused by an infection of the human papillomavirus (HPV). The abnormalities are asymptomatic but can be detected by standard Pap test screening and diagnosed by a colposcopy and biopsy of the affected area.

The severity of CIN is typically categorized into three grades. CIN1 — which is often cleared by a woman’s own immune system without any treatment — is considered low grade, while CIN2 and 3 are referred to as high grade. Untreated, these high-grade abnormalities could progress to cancer over time, so surgical excision of this area of the cervix is usually recommended.

The study, sponsored by Inovio Pharmaceuticals, treats women with high-grade CIN with a new investigational therapeutic vaccine that targets HPV at the source of the cervical abnormalities. The goal is to show the vaccine is a safe and effective alternative to surgery, which can weaken the cervix, putting patients at risk of premature delivery with future pregnancies.