Moon Shots program aims to eliminate HPV

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COLUMBIA - The Ellis Fischel Cancer Center is working toward completely eradicating HPV one vaccination at a time with the help of the Moon Shots program.

The Moon Shots program, now celebrating its fifth year in operation, is an initiative which its website lists as a "collaborative effort" toward scientific advancement in patient care. Currently there are four core groups associated with the MD Anderson Cancer Network, with Ellis Fischel being one of them.

"We're delighted to be a part of it," said Dr. Eric Kimchi. He's the medical director of MU Health Care's Ellis Fischel Cancer Center. "It's actually something that, before we even partnered with MD Anderson on this Moon Shot initiative, we had established this as a priority in our cancer center."

According to the Moon Shots' site, there are currently 13 different disease-focused initiatives in the program. Ellis Fischel is focused primarily on the prevention of HPV infection.

HPV, or human papillomavirus, is a sexually transmitted disease which, in certain strains, can cause cancer in varying areas of the body. Ellis Fischel's mission with the Moon Shots program is to encourage people to get the HPV vaccine.

"There's the potential to remove pathogens from our disease process," Kimchi said. "Vaccinations like this give us that opportunity."

HPV is among the most prevalent viruses of today.

Kimchi says approximately 80 percent of people will be exposed to HPV in their lifetime, with 14 million new infections each year.

The goal, however, isn't to just vaccinate Columbia. The Moon Shots program hopes to remove the disease completely by vaccinating the world. In doing so, the overarching goal is to eventually stop the virus and the cancers it causes.

"That's a really long-term stretch goal, but there's always that hope with vaccination that perhaps we can rid this pathogen from human disease."

Kimchi says children ages 11 to 12 should take the vaccine. He says anyone before 15 years of age should receive two doses, but those over 15 should get three doses.

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