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A World Leader in Infection-Related Cancer Research

ACS Research Professor Profile: Anna Giuliano, PhD

In July 2018, Anna R. Giuliano, PhD, was awarded an American Cancer Society (ACS) Clinical Research Professor grant and named the first recipient of the Dorothea Bennett Memorial American Cancer Society Research Professorship. She’s known worldwide for her research on infection-related cancers and specifically on HPV-related cancers. The grant provides research funding for at least 5 years and allows Giuliano to use the title ACS Research Professor for the rest of her life. It is considered the most prestigious grant from the ACS.

Studying HPV for 35 Years

Anna R. Giuliano, PhD, became interested in human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer early in her career. It was close to the time that German scientist Harald zur Hausen first recognized that HPV causes cervical cancer. (He later won a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for that discovery.)

Now Giuliano is an epidemiology professor and researcher at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida. She also founded and is director of the Center for Immunization and Infection Research in Cancer (CIIRC) there. The CIIRC works to speed the development and use of vaccines to prevent and treat cancer. The center also works to improve the diagnosis and treatment of infection-related cancers. 

“Every time I talk with her, I’m amazed about how much she knows and how passionate and tireless she is about eliminating HPV infections,” says Debbie Saslow, PhD, senior director for HPV-related and women’s cancers at the ACS. 

About HPV

HPV causes 6 types of cancer.

In women, it causes cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers

In men, it causes penile cancer

In men and women, it causes certain throat cancers (oropharyngeal) and anal

The HPV vaccine can help prevent all these cancers. It protects against 90% of HPV-related cancers.

Selection as an ACS Research Professorship

“We awarded Dr. Giuliano the ACS Research Professor grant because she’s committed to mentoring junior researchers. And she's involved in local, national, and international service, including as an ACS spokesperson,” says Susanna Greer, PhD. Greer is the ACS program director of the peer review committee that was responsible for the award, which started in July 2018. That committee reviews grant proposals about Clinical Cancer Research, Nutrition, and Immunology. 

“We’re supporting her goal to reduce the incidence of one of the most common types of liver cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma, via the development of a screening and intervention program for the hepatitis C virus,” says Greer. “Her funding is also supporting research on the early detection of oropharyngeal cancers in the mouth and throat caused by HPV.”

How Giuliano's Research Is Making a Difference

Making progress toward the elimination of cervical cancer. “She was the pioneer in eliminating HPV-related cancers and is the go-to person on elimination in the United States and abroad because she’s the one who dug up all the evidence to show elimination was possible,” Saslow says.

Giuliano’s expertise was a vital resource for the ACS during the development of our Mission HPV Cancer Free campaign, Saslow adds. The campaign includes the ACS Elimination Statement on HPV Cancers. In fact, Saslow says, “Dr. Giuliano was instrumental in the development of HPV-cancer elimination statements from all 70 National Cancer Institute (NCI) designated centers and from the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as the ACS.” 

“Elimination of cervical cancer as a public health problem is feasible in countries that have immunization, effective screening, and treatment of pre-cancers,” Giuliano says. She goes around the U.S. and world spreading that message.

“When I started my career the rates of cervical cancer in the U.S. were twice as high as they are now—3 to 4 times as high in certain people. I’ve seen those rates of cervical cancer drop with the increase in screening alone," Giuliano says. "Now we have a powerful vaccine that we’re adding to screening. I know we can eliminate cervical cancer. It’s only a matter of time. I have no doubt about that.”

Using vaccinations to protect people against other HPV-related cancers. Unfortunately, other HPV-related cancers don’t have screening tests to boost elimination. Though, researchers are now studying screening tests for people who have a high risk for anal cancer, Guiliano says. “Still with the help of the HPV vaccine,” she adds, “we can protect people against 90% of cancers caused by HPV.”

Enhancing scientists' knowledge about HPV. Giuliano’s ongoing research in clinical trials has helped us learn these aspects of HPV.

  • The rates at which people are infected with HPV and cleared from that infection
  • How likely these infections are to become cancer
  • How well vaccines protect against viruses that may lead to cancers in women and men

One of the more notable studies she spearheaded was the multinational HPV Infection in Men (HIM) Study.