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Michelle A. Ozbun, Ph.D.

ozbun-spotlightMichelle A. Ozbun, Ph.D.
Department of Molecular Genetics & Microbiology
Health Sciences Center, The University of New Mexico

Dr. Ozbun has disclosed three inventions, received one issued U. S. patent and has two pending patent applications. Dr. Ozbun has a sponsored research agreement with Novartis AG and interest from several other pharmaceutical companies in her human papillomavirus technologies. Dr. Ozbun and her co-inventors have discovered antagonist compounds that are viable candidates for prevention of infection by HPVs. Additionally, the compounds can inhibit binding and uptake of other microorganisms—whether viral or bacterial—prior to cellular uptake (including, but not necessarily limited to, HIV, herpes simplex, and Chlamydia). Dr. Ozbun has also made breakthrough discoveries related to functional inhibitor compounds that cause diminished HPV early gene expression and cell signaling. This diminished early gene expression and cell signaling may result in near or complete viral clearance, meaning that these pathway inhibitors can act as antivirals that prevent viral gene expression and viral genome replication. It’s possible that these inhibitors may not need to completely reduce viral gene expression, but only lower it enough to restore expression of tumor suppressor proteins, which in turn may direct infected cells to die. Many of the identified inhibitors are FDA approved for human use, and so could be tested in human tissues and patients very soon.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 20 million Americans are currently infected with human papillomavirus (HPV). Another 6 million people become newly infected each year. HPV is so common that at least 50% of sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives. Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infectious agent worldwide and also is estimated to cause approximately 500,000 cases of cancer a year. HPV infection is also associated with a variety of other diseases, including cutaneous and genital warts. Most of the many types of HPV are harmless, but roughly 30 types deemed “high risk” create significant cancer risk. Over 100 different HPV types have been identified, and the most common HPV-associated cancer, cervical cancer, is associated with infection by one of a subset of about 15-18 “high risk” HPVs.

Dr. Ozbun’s research focuses on the differentiation-dependent life cycles of papillomaviruses (PV) and how the life cycles are disrupted, leading to malignancies. She is specifically interested in three areas of research with respect to PV infections and cancer: (1) investigating the strategies of initial PV replication upon infection and the mechanisms for establishment of viral persistence; (2) identifying the step(s) of PV infection at which host range and tissue tropism are demonstrated; and (3) analyzing potential common pathways used by various co-factors, which cooperate with HPVs in causing cancers.

UNM-Affiliated Issued U. S. Patents

7,285,386   RhPV1 as a Model for HPV-Induced Cancers, issued October 23, 2007

UNM-Affiliated Pending Patent Applications

Compositions and Methods for Inhibiting Viral and/or Bacterial Infections
Method for Treating Infection by HPV