Success Story

New Technical Service Makes HPV Genotyping Available to More Researchers

A new chemical test available through the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research could accelerate human papillomavirus (HPV) research by detecting 40 percent more HPVs than the current gold standard research test.

There are upwards of 100 human papillomaviruses (HPVs), and these viruses can cause abnormal tissue growth and other changes to cells. Prolonged infection with certain types of HPV can cause cancer.

The test at the Frederick National Laboratory, an HPV genotyping assay, is provided through the laboratory’s Technical Services Program and is available to external researchers around the world. It can detect 52 types of HPVs, offering a substantial increase in coverage, and is less expensive compared to other available HPV genotyping assays.


“Currently, very few HPV genotyping assays are commercially available,” explained Nicolas Wentzensen, M.D., Ph.D., senior investigator and branch chief within the National Cancer Institute’s Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, who was a key contributor to the assay’s development. “And most established assays are costly and laborious, which has limited HPV genotyping, particularly in large population-based studies with multiple rounds of specimen sampling.”

Therefore, a team led by Joseph Boland, director of research and functional genomics at the Cancer Genomics Research Laboratory within the Frederick National Laboratory, set out to develop a new assay that better meets the needs of researchers—an assay that is inexpensive, fast, and reliable. In doing so, the scientists developed an assay that not only fulfilled these requirements, but that is also able to detect more types of HPV than any other genotyping assay.HPV Genomics Research Group at the Frederick National Laboratory

Most commercially available tests only identify the common carcinogenic HPV types, such as HPV 16 and 18. The current gold standard HPV research assay can detect just 37 types—15 types fewer than the new assay.

“The strength of the assay is its broad type coverage with good performance across all types, particularly carcinogenic types,” Wentzensen said. He also explained that the assay is able to “strike a delicate balance between sensitivity and specificity, so that all clinically important infections, but not irrelevant minor infections or viral depositions, are detected.”

Among the 52 types detected are all 13 types known to cause cancer. HPV infections remain a significant cause of cancer in the United States and worldwide. The virus is responsible for virtually all cases of cervical cancer, and it can cause several other types of cancer.

Boland, along with Lead Scientist Sarah Wagner, and his team spent nearly two years developing the assay, which represents a novel and streamlined process. The assay can be run manually or automated, enabling a high-throughput workflow capable of processing more than 700 samples in just three days, and multiple batches can run in parallel for rapid turnaround times. This efficiency greatly reduces costs. In addition, like all the technical services offered by the Frederick National Laboratory, it is available at cost to external researchers.

“The idea is to make access to this assay readily available to more researchers, including those in low-resource countries,” said Boland.

By Victoria Brun, science writer, Partnership Development Office

Header image: A koilocyte is a squamous epithelial cell that has undergone structural changes as a result of infection by human papillomavirus (HPV). This image of a koilocyte shows human ectocervical cells (HEC) expressing HPV-16 E5 oncoprotein, and immortalized with HPV-16 E6 and E7 oncoproteins. Formation of koilocytes requires cooperation between HPV E5 and E6 oncoproteins. The cell culture is stained with hematoxylin and eosin (H&E). National Cancer Institute image

Second image: HPV Genomics Research Group, Frederick National Laboratory, that worked on the assay. Back row (from left): Michael Cullen, senior scientist, Meredith Yeager, senior principal scientist, Joseph Boland, laboratory manager, Laurie Burdett, senior sectional leader scientist, Ethan Dmitrovsky, Frederick National Laboratory director. Front row (from left): Mia Steinberg, bioinformatics analyst III, Sara Bass, associate scientist, Sarah Wagner, development associate III.