Historical marker commemorates cancer vaccine research

April 15, 2010

Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center today unveiled a historical marker to recognize the seminal work of the late Drs. Mary K. Howett and John W. Kreider and their research colleagues in helping to establish the link between the human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer.

Funded by the Jake Gittlen Cancer Research Foundation, which has donated more than $13 million in gifts and commitments to cancer research at Penn State in memory of the late Jake Gittlen, the scientific discoveries of Howett and Kreider played an important role in the development of the first human anti-cancer vaccine. The vaccine protects against HPV, including types that cause cervical cancer in women, one of the leading causes of death in women worldwide.

Howett was a professor emeritus after 30 years and a distinguished career of teaching and research in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Penn State College of Medicine. In 2003 she took the position of professor and head of the Department of Bioscience and Biotechnology at Drexel University. She died in August 2008 from leukemia-related complications.

Kreider also distinguished himself as a researcher and educator at the College of Medicine. He served more than 25 years as a professor of pathology and microbiology and received the Teaching Excellence Award, presented by second-year medical students, 11 times between 1980 and 1992. He was awarded the Penn State Faculty Scholar Medal for Outstanding Achievement in Health and Life Sciences in 1990 and was the author of more than 150 peer-reviewed articles.

Kreider died in February from complications related to kidney failure.

Participants in the historical marker unveiling today included Warren Gittlen, founder of the Jake Gittlen Cancer Research Foundation; the families of Howett and Kreider; and Harold L. Paz, medical center CEO, Penn State’s senior vice president for health affairs and dean of Penn State College of Medicine.

The HPV historical marker is the eighth such historical marker installed on the Medical Center campus and the first to be installed in nearly 20 years.

The marker reads:

In the 1980’s College of Medicine researchers led by John Kreider and Mary K. Howett and funded by the Jake Gittlen Cancer Research Foundation perfected a technique for propagating the human papilloma virus (HPV), the primary cause of cervical cancer. This and other lab techniques and materials developed by microbiologists in the college helped lead to vaccines against HPV, the first of which earned FDA approval in 2006.

To see photos from the unveiling, visit http://live.psu.edu/stilllife/2245 online.

To see video of the event, visit http://www.youtube.com/pennstatehershey#p/u/0/lvReSWFJZws online.

To read Howett's obituary, visit http://live.psu.edu/story/34068 online.

To read Kreider's obituary, visit http://live.psu.edu/story/44281 online.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated April 16, 2010