A simple treatment using a widely prescribed HIV drug could prevent cervical cancer, research suggests.
Lopinavir kills cells infected by the human papilloma virus (HPV) while leaving healthy cells relatively unharmed, scientists have found.
HPV is the most common cause of cervical cancer, which affects 3,000 women in the UK each year and accounts for more than 900 deaths.
It also triggers significant numbers of mouth and throat cancers in both men and women.
Researchers from the University of Manchester, working with colleagues in Canada, made the discovery after carrying out laboratory tests on cell cultures.
Dr Ian Hampson, from the University's school of cancer and enabling sciences, said: "This is a very significant finding as these cells are not cancer cells but are the closest thing to being like the cells found in a pre-cancerous HPV infection of the cervix.
"In addition, we were also able to show that lopinavir kills these HPV-infected cells by re-activating a well-known antiviral system that is suppressed by HPV."
To be effective as a treatment, the drug would have to be administered in doses 10 to 15 times that taken by HIV patients. This would mean applying it as a cream or pessary, rather than swallowing a tablet, said Dr Hampson.
The research is published today in the journal Antiviral Therapy.