Gardasil is a vaccine manufactured by Merck Inc. It was invented by Eliav Barr, Barry Buckland and Dr. Kathrin Jansen who worked on the vaccine from the Merck Research Laboratories. It was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2006 as suitable in the prevention of cervical cancer in women. In particular the vaccine has been proven to protect women against four types (types 6, 11, 16 and 18) of Human papillomavirus (HPV) (Kathrin, Barry & Eliav, 2012). Among girls, two types of HPV cause more than 75% of cervical, vaginal cancers and two others cause more than 90% of genital warts. Gardasil is also used to protect boys and young men between 9 and 26 years against 90% of genital warts. Gardasil is given as 3 injections over six months (Kathrin, Barry & Eliav, 2012. What is the microbiology in gardasil that suits it to prevent these types of cancers and reproductive health conditions? This paper explores the microbiology of the vaccine that makes it effective in responding to HPV attacks, while exploring the potential problems facing scientists today and the contribution of science in today’s culture.
Part of understanding the microbiology of the gardasil vaccine is to understand the components that make the vaccine. Gardasil is a prophylactic vaccine specific to the HPV. According to Kathrin, Barry and Eliav (2012), gardasil vaccine is manufactured from proteins of the HPV types 6, 11, 16 and 18, Sodium chloride, yeast protein, sodium borate, polysorbate, L-histidine and aluminum hydroxyphosphate sulfate as the adjuvant- an immunological agent that modifies the effect of other agents in a drug or vaccine. Polysorbate is an emulsifier and surfactant viscous and water soluble yellow liquid that are use in foods.
Gardasil is a recombinant vaccine. The microbiology of the gardasil vaccine is based on the structure of the HPV major capsid protein, L1 which can spontaneously assemble itself into Virus-like Particles (VLPs) resembling authentic HPV virions. In order to make the gardasil recombinant vaccines, genes that encode for capsid protein types 6, 11, 16 and 18 are taken and inserted into yeast expression factors (Aschenbrenner, 2009). These yeast expression factors are the circular DNA pieces that contain specific sequences capable of allowing the translation of those genes into proteins. The fact that viral DNA is absent from VLPs renders them incapable of inducing cancer (Aschenbrenner, 2009). What they do is to trigger the response of antibodies that protect the recipients of the vaccine from becoming infected with all the HPV types that are represented in the vaccine.
It is these protein encoding genes expressed in the yeast vectors that create large amounts of protein which is then purified to come up with the microbiologically active part of the vaccine. The addition of other ingredients preserves and activates the action of the vaccine once it is injected into the body.
When a person is injected with the gardasil vaccine, the person’s immune system develops acquired immunity against the four types HPV strains that are commonly prevalent and that naïve B-Lymphocytes recognize inactive proteins and extracts that make up the vaccine as foreign (Aschenbrenner, 2009). This prompts the lymphocytes to self-divide into plasma B-lymphocytes and memory B-lymphocytes. The plasma cells provide the body with short-term immunity by producing antibodies that are specific to protein extracts of the four HPV strains. This allows the antibodies to attack and destroy the foreign organisms-the HPV.
The memory B-lymphocytes function is to provide long-lasting immunity to the body by developing a type of cells- B-cell receptors which have a high affinity to the antigens present in the capsid proteins making up the vaccine. As a result, when a person injected with the gardasil vaccine is exposed to the active forms of the HPV types 6, 11, 16 and 18 naturally in future, the memory-B cells are able to recognize and immediately trigger the production of antibodies to fight the viruses (Aschenbrenner, 2009). The vaccine contains only small portions of the HPV and not the whole virus and as such the vaccine becomes effective in the prevention of HPV-related cancers with decimated chances of the vaccine causing HPV infections.
Issues facing scientists
The vaccine is not effective when one is already infected with the HPV type 16 or 18. It is therefore recommended that the drug is administered to people and especially girls at a young age before they become sexually active since the HPV virus is mostly transmitted through sexual intercourse. This issue coupled with the reduced protection effect the vaccine has on users aged 26 years and above raises concerns of ethics on the part of the manufacturers. In this regard the ethical issues question the age factor - the exposure of young girls to vaccines to protect them against “STDs” could be taken to mean giving the girls a leeway to engage in premarital sex. Thought this ethical issue is relatively myopic but from some schools of thought and ethics it is debatable. Some people could pose that girls who are vaccinated could practice risky sexual behaviors such as failure to use contraceptives such as condoms since they feel secure against HPV. This however puts them at the risk of unwanted pregnancies and contracting other deadly infections such as HIV (Jesitus, 2007). The fact that some adverse side effects such as swelling, pain, headaches, fever and nausea have been reported compounds the ethical issues surrounding the use of gardasil vaccine.
There are public health policies that pose challenges to scientists in their quest to improve public health. One of these issues is lack of adequate government support in terms of funding and resources. The policies could also be restrictive on the process of conducting research by for instance severely limiting the extent to which a scientist can experiment the effectiveness of a drug. The value of the research could also be watered down by excessive focus on the side effects of say a drug at the expense of the numerous benefits it has brought to people (Jesitus, 2007). For instance in the case of gardasil vaccine the drug was blamed for causing 31 deaths of its users after they reported blood clots but after postmortem analysis of the victims were done, physicians were reluctant to blame the deaths on the gardasil vaccine. Most of the victims had high risks of blood clots due to obesity, use of oral contraceptive and smoking.
In the interest of the general public some physician have urged for a thorough study on the adversity of side effects associated with gardasil vaccine. This is in line with ensuring that it does not in particular harm the young girls who use the vaccine. Government funding of research projects is a lengthy procedure that at times poses a challenge to the scientists in their quest to provide the world with breakthrough inventions (Jesitus, 2007).
Science definitely has a deep effect in shaping today’s culture. The invention of the gardasil for instance alters the lives of millions of girls worldwide by giving them an opportunity to grow into adulthood with significantly reduced fears of contracting cervical cancer. This could play about in the sexual lives of the girls, their use of contraceptives among other issues that touch on social lives (Jesitus, 2007). Technological advances have made it possible for scientists in different fields such as engineering, medicine, and telecommunications among others to come together and improve humanity through breakthrough inventions such gardasil vaccine.
Aschenbrenner, D. S. (2009) a New Indication for the HPV Vaccine Gardasil AJN, American Journal of Nursing: January 2009 - Volume 109 - Issue 1 - p 34–35
Jesitus, J. (2007). Grounds for gardasil. New England Journal of Medicine 364(22):2164-5 (2011)
Kathrin, J., Barry, B., & Eliav, B. (2012). The Story of Gardasil. Retrieved April 15, 2013, from http://www.innovation.org/index.cfm/StoriesofInnovation/InnovatorStories/The_Story_of_Gardasil