You've probably heard of HPV. It's the most common sexually transmitted virus in the US, but what many don't know is HPV can also cause a serious respiratory disease.
Now doctors think curing that lung problem could be the first step to curing HPV.
About 20-million Americans are living with it. Half of sexually active people will develop it, and most don't even know they have it. It's HPV, a sexually transmitted disease that's best known for its link to cervical cancer.
But, did you know HPV can also affect your throat and lungs? That's what happened to Ben Zehavi. "I could feel that there is some irritation in my vocal cords, and I wanted to cough," Zehavi said.
Zehavi had a disease called RRP. Benign tumors form on the vocal cords, trachea and lungs. It's caused by the HPV virus. Until now, the only treatment was surgery to cut out the tumors.
Chief Scientific Officer with the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, Dr. Bettie Steinberg said, "Those with the worst cases, because it varies, might need surgery every three weeks, just so they don't suffocate to death."
Steinberg is studying what could be an easy fix. Patients with RRP express a protein called COX-2. The arthritis drug, celebrex , targets it. In the lab, celebrex stopped the cells from growing and even killed some. In a small study, three RRP patients responded well, and two are still disease-free. Celebrex can cause side effects, but the doctor says if her new, larger study shows the same results as the previous one that "there's no reason to think it won't work for HPV infections in other tissues as well."
Zehavi was one of the three study participants. His vocal cords are clear, and he's been in remission for five years.
It's a little pill that could have a big impact on millions.
RRP affects about 10,000 people in the U.S.
It can be transmitted from a mother with HPV to her baby at birth or it can be sexually transmitted.
It's unknown why some people with HPV develop RRP and others don't.
Steinberg is currently in the process of conducting a large, multi-center study of celebrex for RRP.