The AAV2 virus, common to most humans, has the ability to detect and then either destroy, or slow the replication rate of cancer cells. The virus
affects epithelial cancers, which include cervical, breast, prostrate, and squamous cell cancer, all without doing damage to healthy cells, something
that current cancer treatments fail to accomplish.
"Our results suggest that adeno-associated virus type 2 (AAV2), which infects the majority of the population but has no known ill effects, kills
multiple types of cancer cells yet has no effect on healthy cells," said Craig Meyers, Ph.D., professor of microbiology and immunology, Penn State
College of Medicine, Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. "We believe that AAV2 recognizes that the cancer cells are abnormal and destroys
them. This suggests that AAV2 has great potential to be developed as an anti-cancer agent."
"Even without co-mingling with another virus, AAV2 seems to be able to infect and express itself in other types of cancer cells also disrupting their
ability to survive and inducing cell death," Meyers said. "Although we suspect it is, more studies are needed to determine if the mechanism through
which AAV2 destroys cancer cells is the same." Scientists often refer to cancer cells as deregulated, meaning they are no longer acting or
communicating like normal, healthy cells. It appears that AAV2 is able to recognize cells that have undergone deregulation, infect them, express its
own genes, which disrupt the host cell's life cycle and kill it.
In this study, the team first used HPV infected epithelial cells and normal human epithelial cells, which are natural hosts for both AAV2 and HPV. In
cultures infected with both AAV2 and HPV, the team found that after six days, all HPV infected cells had died. Meyers then used the same approach in
four types of cancer – cervical, breast, prostate and squamous cell - all epithelial cell cancers. Epithelial cells are those that cover or line all
of the internal and external parts of the body. No matter the type of epithelial cancer cells, when treated with AAV2, all cancer cells were dead in
six days. Though previous have investigated the cancer-targeting potential of AAV2, none allowed the AAV2 to remain in culture long enough to see the
effect that Meyers and his team observed. "One of the most compelling findings is that AAV2 appears to have no pathologic effects on healthy cells,"
Meyers said. "So many cancer therapies are as poisonous to healthy cells as they are to cancer cells. A therapy that is able to distinguish between
healthy and cancer cells could be less difficult to endure for those with cancer." Though similar in design and effectiveness to some gene therapies,
Meyers and his team did not modify the AAV2, but left it in its natural form. Therefore, it would not be classified as a gene therapy.
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I was taken by surprise that a virus had the ability to do good instead of harm, and be less indiscriminate in it's cell targeting than even our own
current cancer treatments.
The article goes on to mention that the virus will be enhanced after it's researched more thoroughly, to respond more aggressively to cancer cells to
make it a better candidate for cancer therapy. This is very exciting news. If all goes well, we may have a cancer treatment that won't have any
negative effects on the patient.