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How a Mexican scientist eradicated HPV
Eva Ramón Gallegos - Photo: Lucía Godínez/EL UNIVERSAL

How a Mexican scientist eradicated HPV

04/03/2019
15:45
Perla Miranda
Mexico City
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Eva Ramón affirms that bureaucracy and the lack of resources are the biggest challenges and the worst enemies for Mexican scientists

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Eva Ramón Gallegos led a project that resulted in the eradication of the human papillomavirus (HPV) in 29 patients but it was no easy task. Eva Ramón affirms that bureaucracy and the lack of resources are the biggest challenges and the worst enemies for Mexican scientists.

“When there are budget cuts, science and art are the most affected, it seems like they aren't necessary. I think the main problem is money and bureaucracy, they are a burden because it takes a long time to ask for supplies and receive them. Actually, I think that they should cancel the fees so that everything that is required for an investigation arrives quickly and that there should also be more incentives for the researchers and scientists,” she said.

Eva Ramón Gallegos explains that her project officially began in 2012 when she was awarded a Conacyt scholarship and how proud and satisfied she felt after fulfilling one of her biggest dreams: curing a woman. Her project consisted of taking samples from 1,000 patients; in the end, she worked with women from Oaxaca, Veracruz, and Mexico City.

She then explains that the technique she used consists of exposing the cells to a drug, which works as a photosensitizer, then the cells are radiated with red light, “the molecules, when they energize and de-energize, they release electrons that are caught by the molecular oxygen and it turns into singlet oxygen, this way, it kills the cells of the human papillomavirus (HPV).”

To administer the drug, women laid down and a speculum was introduced in their genitals to place the drug in specific areas and define the amount of time it would stay on their bodies.

“We calculate (the time) with each woman because there are some who had never had children and their cervix is very small, in them the waiting time for the drug is 15 minutes but with the women who are mothers of one or more children and (had) natural births, their uterus was larger, with them it takes up to 40 minutes"

The photodynamic therapy was key for the patient to be free of the virus. This is a noninvasive technique that consists on applying a drug called aminolevulinic acid in the cervix, after two hours it turns into protoporphyrin IX, a fluorescent chemical substance that accumulates in the damaged cells and allows its elimination with a special laser light.

During the first stage, the patients received the treatment three times, with a 48-hour interval between each session. The results showed that in the women who had the virus but didn't have lesions, the HPV was eradicated up to 85%; in the patients who have lesions, the treatment was successful in up to 85%, and in those who had lesions but didn't carry HPV, the treatment was successful in 42%.

Women in Mexico City were given twice as much aminolevulinic acid concentration; the treatment took place twice, with a 48-hour interval in between each session. After checking the patients, Eva Ramón found that 100% of the patients who had HPV but had no lesions were free of the virus; 64.3% in those with both HPV and lesions, and 57.2% in those who have lesions but didn't carry the virus.

“They were all women between 25 and 50 years, that didn't have any other type of invasive treatment, we monitored them for six months first and after a year the situation was the same, the human papillomavirus had been eradicated from their organism,” explains Eva Ramón.

A commitment to her gender

Since she graduated, Eva wanted to contribute to science with an early cancer diagnosis, that's why she chose the National Cancerology Institute (Incan) for her medical residency, “there I realized the impact the illness has and I saw what was offered to them, I understood that there was a lot left to do in regards to the diagnosis and treatment of cervical cancer, my need to contribute started there.”

When she was studying her master's degree, she wanted to use light therapy to eliminate the human papillomavirus in women, “this type of treatment had been used since the Egyptians; in 1910 it was resumed and in 1970 a North American scientists tried it on small groups of patients with lung cancer, that's how we started trying it in the cervix and it worked.”

I always said: “When I cure a woman, I'm going to be happy, and I was.” She hasn't forgotten about the people who worked with her and thanks them, “it was such a committed group, my graduate students, Elizabeth Maldonado and María López, and a master in science, Alejandro Martínez Escobar and all the gynecologists that supported me not only to take samples in Mexico City, but also in Veracruz.

The expert has dedicated over a decade to this project and hopes that the health sector is interested and collaborates to carry out another study that backs the results and it's then included among the treatment alternatives for the patients who live with the virus.

Life after HPV

Lorena Guzmán is happy and proud to be one the 29 women from Mexico City who participated in the project by providing samples for a project led by Eva Ramón, after which the human papillomavirus was completely eradicated from her body.

One year after HPV was eradicated from her body, she admits that being diagnosed with the virus is complicated “because it has always be stigmatized, as if the only cause was sexual promiscuity, also, this isn't something you can solve by yourself, your partner has to be there and there has to be a lot of trust, hygiene, discipline, and self-love.”

For 12 months, Lorena took the treatment. Unfortunately, after the first stage of the treatment came to an end, she was told that the virus hadn't been eradicated, her main obstacle was lupus, an autoimmune disease that destroys cells and healthy tissues.

“I participated in the second stage with the photodynamic therapy and the virus disappeared, I'm 100% free of HPV,” Lorena said.

No longer carrying HPV is a “dream come true” for Lorena. When she found out about the diagnosis and after she was told she had lupus, she thought that her chances of having a good quality of life where scarce. “Now peace has returned, I can make long-term plans and enjoy every day of my life,” she said.

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