In a fifth-floor laboratory at Hershey Medical Center, scientists have discovered a virus which they believe may facilitate the destruction of cancerous cells in the human body. Dr. Craig Meyers and his team brought to surface the fact that Adeno-associated virus type 2 (AAV2) does not cause disease in humans but liquefies certain cancer cells when exposed to a growth.
Elizabethtown College alumnus John Fuesler ’11 researched this topic at the medical center. He examined Meyers’ paper about the tests he performed and described the findings to prove that AAV2 does not kill normal breast cells but breast cancer cells in culture. “The cell death occurred through apoptosis, which is an orchestrated process of cell suicide. This virus was able to ‘turn on’ the process in cancer cells, but not normal cells, in part because it did not infect the normal cell type,” Fuesler said.
According to an article on www.pennlive.com, AAV2 is a miniscule virus that could be vital to the development of modern science but cannot easily replicate. In this article, Dr. Nicholas Muzyczka of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology from the University of Florida in Gainesville explained that the virus needs help to react. AAV2 cannot damage healthy cells and is harmless on its own, but one of the viruses that aided it in responding is the human papillomavirus (HPV), suspected to instigate cervical cancer.
Meyers and his team at the center were studying AAV2 and HPV together, as well as the idea that AAV2 can modify the chance of a patient developing cervical cancer. They infected cervical cancer cells with AAV2 and found them dead after only a week. They performed this study a dozen times and then began researching other types of cancer cells, such as breast cancer. The AAV2 experiment worked on breast cancer tumors in laboratory mice a year prior, proving the study to be consistent. Sciencedaily.com elaborates that all of the cancer cells are eliminated in seven days, but an aggressive breast cancer cell line took three weeks to die. This indicates that AAV2 may eliminate all stages of breast cancer.
According to Fuesler, AAV2 can kill cervical, breast, prostate, melanoma, and squamous cell carcinoma cells, but has only been successfully tested in culture. It is unknown whether these other cancer cell types would be targeted and killed in an animal model, he said.
The pennlive.com article reveals that the link between viruses and cancer is not a new concept. Two decades ago, the common cold was tested on field mice in a similar fashion as AAV2, and the flaws of the study were identified when tested on humans. Some humans were able to fight the virus because their bodies were immune to it.
Although this discovery is an important breakthrough in the annihilation of cancer, there is still a tremendous amount of work to be performed. Humans have not yet been tested, and it may be some time before this occurs, particularly because of the expense of this type of research.
The next step would be to bring these findings to hospitals when funding is received. According to Fuesler, “there needs to be more extensive animal testing to demonstrate that this virus kills only cancerous cells in vivo [also known as in a living animal]. Additionally, I would assume that the molecular basis of how this virus kills cancer cells will need to be better established. While Meyers did demonstrate how the cells die, he did not show how the virus interacts with the host cancer cells to kill them.”
Meyers commented, “It’s a very emotional topic. Everyone has somebody they know who has one type of cancer or another, and cancer’s not like one day you’re alive and the next day you’re dead. It’s a long, debilitating, chronic problem. You need to be reminded sometimes that the research you’re doing could have an effect on people out there.”
The World Health Organization identifies breast cancer as the top cancer that women develop worldwide. The American Cancer Society estimates that cancer claims the lives of 7.6 million people each year, and, though experts believe some cancers can be prevented, the fact remains that it is one of mankind’s most damaging enemies.
While hospitals usually try to prevent contagion, scientists at Hershey Medical Center hope that their research makes optimism contagious. Hard work, ingenuity and perseverance have resulted in the identification of this virus, which could greatly increase the speed of the perpetual drive to find a cure for cancer.