A Harmless Virus Kills Cancer Cells

June 24, 2005   Hershey, Pennsylvania – A scientist at Penn State College of Medicine in Pennsylvania announced at a recent meeting of the American Society for Virology that his lab has killed cancer cells with a virus called “adeno-associated virus type 2,” or AAV-2.

The AAV-2 virus has killed a variety of cancer cells in Petrie dishes investigated by Dr. Craig Meyers, Prof. of Microbiology and Immunology at Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, Pennsylvania. This cancer-killing virus infects 80% of the human population. If the AAV-2 virus is so prevalent, why isn’t it killing cancers all the time in people? I asked Dr. Meyers what activates the virus to kill cancer cells in his laboratory?


Craig Meyers, Ph.D., Prof. of Microbiology and Immunology, Penn State College of Medicine, Hershey, Pennsylvania: “That’s what we are trying to find out. We’re a cervical cancer lab and cervical cancer is caused by another virus called Papilloma virus. We’ve been studying how these two viruses interact with each other. Typically, you do experiments that take 2 to 3 days. But we let the cells keep growing after putting both viruses in and at 6 days, all the cancer cells died.

So, at first we thought there was something wrong. When all your cells die, you think your incubator ­ something is wrong with it. So we repeated it. We’ve repeated it with cervical cancer cells about 30 to 40 times and every time, it’s at 6 days. It doesn’t matter if the cervical cancer cells come from a low-grade lesion, a middle-grade, a high-grade, an invasive cancer of the cervix. It does not matter. It kills all the cells at exactly 6 days.

We were telling this to a friend of ours and he said, ‘Why don’t you try other cancers?’ Other cancers are not caused by viruses ­ such as breast cancer and prostate cancer. Those aren’t a viral cause.

We told him at first we did not think it would work, but finally we said we would do it just to quiet him down. So we went out and got breast cancer cell lines and prostate cancer cell lines and squamous carcinoma lines and we did the same thing. Every single one of them at 6 days, they all died.

THE ONLY INGREDIENT YOU ARE ADDING IS THE AAV-2 VIRUS?

That’s it. We are not changing that virus in any way. A lot of people say it looks like gene therapy. No, gene therapy people genetically change the virus. They manipulate it and engineer it in a different way. This is just a naturally occurring virus and all we are doing is putting it on the cells and so far with the different types we’ve tested, it’s killed them all in 6 days.

Now, we don’t have enough people or funding right now to go as far as we would like. We haven’t tested lung cancer. We haven’t tested colon cancer or anything like that. We just tried to get a group of cancers that were very important and we could get the cells quite easily.

IS YOUR UNIT AT THE PENN STATE COLLEGE OF MEDICINE THE FIRST TO TRY TO SEE IF THE AAV-2 VIRUS IN A PETRIE DISH WOULD KILL A VARIETY OF CANCER CELLS?

You know, it’s hard to say. I believe we are. But the thing is if people did it and they did not wait long enough. That’s the key. Most people do experiments and they wait two days, three days. This took 6 days and it’s always 6 days. Someone might have tried it, but they don’t tell you about it because they waited 3 days and nothing happened.

CONGRATULATIONS, SIR, ON YOUR PATIENCE.

I guess I’ve had 4 boys and I’ve learned to be patient.

 

AAV-2 Virus Is in 80% of Human
Population Without Causing Illness

WHAT DOES THE AAV-2 VIRUS DO IN A NORMAL PERSON?

Nothing. We’ve known people who have been infected for a long time. It’s never been shown to cause any disease or ill effects in people. And in fact, in our culture system, when we put it on normal cells, it (AAV-2 virus) does not do anything to them.

IF IT INFECTS AN ESTIMATED 80% OF THE POPULATION, WHY WOULD THERE BE MUCH CANCER AT ALL?

There are two possibilities: one is that it’s not in the right places where you’re getting the cancer. It (AAV-2 virus) might infect you in another area (away from cancer cells). The other possibility is that when the virus gets in (the body), most of the time it does not replicate. It just puts its DNA into your DNA and stays there. So, it’s not activated. But in our system, it’s going directly to the cancer cells. And it’s activated.

OH, I SEE. IN THE PRESENCE OF THE CANCER CELLS, IT SEEMS TO TURN ON THE FIGHTING ABILITY OF THE AAV-2 THAT OTHERWISE IS A QUIET VIRUS IN A NORMAL, HEALTHY INDIVIDUAL?

Yes, I think you said it perfectly. That’s what we are finding. Originally we thought it was due to hurting the Papilloma virus that causes cervical cancer. But it’s clearly not that. We have some initial experiments done where we are trying to identify what the intersection is in the cells. What is that one point in the cell that is common to all these cancers that AAV-2 is recognizing and says, ‘This is bad.’ And causes the cancer cells to commit suicide. It’s what we call ‘apoptosis.’ It’s a genetically programmed suicide of the cell where if something is going wrong with the cell and a signal is sent out and the cells just die. In a lot of cancers, that ability to kill itself has been removed. So, what AAV-2 seems to be doing is first, recognizing these as being abnormal cells. And then reinstating that pathway, that ability to cause apoptosis or cell suicide and killing the cancer cells. Now, we are just trying to figure out what are all the steps leading up to that.

 

What Activates AAV-2 To Kill Cancer Cells?

WHAT WOULD ACTIVATE THIS AAV-2 BECAUSE IT SOUNDS LIKE IT IS THE MIRACLE DRUG AGAINST CANCER?

I think what’s activating is that somehow it knows it’s in an abnormal cell. Even though cancers are very different in many ways, there are a lot of commonalities. This has been the goal of a lot of cancer therapies is to try to find that common link between them. Now, this probably won’t affect all cancers. But so far the ones we’ve tested, it’s worked on.

SINCE WE THINK OF VIRUSES AS BEING INVADERS THAT USUALLY DO CAUSE DISEASE IN HUMANS AND ANIMALS, WHAT IS IT THAT THIS VIRUS IS DOING WHEN IT’S IN 80% OF THE HUMAN POPULATION?

You know, it seems to go in and realizes there is no other virus there and the cell is not abnormal and seems to take its DNA and stick it into our DNA and just sits there waiting for something to happen. In fact, you can reproduce this in tissue culture in the lab. You can put it in our normal cells and that’s what it’s doing ­ putting its DNA into our DNA and it just waits.

COULD IT BE LIKE MOTHER NATURE’S ANSWER TO CANCER THAT YOU’VE JUST FINALLY STUMBLED UPON?

That’s what we would like to think. That’s not a very scientific type statement to make. But right now, all the data we have is saying that. That this is just a natural ­ everybody is looking for that natural plant or drug in trees. Some of these things have come into the clinic. This is a little different, but it seems to be a natural virus out there that seems to be able to kill cancer cells.

So, how many times has it done that naturally and we just don’t know about it? There’s no way to know that. But now we seem to be able to harness that ability and direct it to the cancer cells we want.

Our immediate goal for the future is to talk to people here in our clinical side and get a road map about what do we need to do to get this into the clinic and start testing it with real people with real cancers? That’s the immediate goal.

Our other goals would be if we’re putting this AAV-2 virus in, what part of it is actually causing the cancer cells to die. Then maybe we could focus on that one piece and enhance or make the process very specific.

The other area is the process by which the AAV-2 virus is causing the cancer cells to die. If we could figure out what the actual pathway is, maybe we could enhance it. So maybe we could make it even a better killer of cancer. Because once it goes into the body, we don’t know ­ there are a lot of variabilities we don’t know how to work with.

Initially, we would probably try to inject it straight into a cancer tissue. But eventually, you would like to have it spread throughout the body because (the ability of cancer cells to) metastasize is a bigger problem. You would like the AAV-2 virus to go everywhere and pick up what surgery or an injection would miss. Those are our goals. How long it’s going to take will depend on how much financial support we can get together.

 

How to Get From Petrie Dish to Human Cancer Patients?

WHAT YOU’VE GOT IS A NATURALLY OCCURRING VIRUS THAT YOU ARE DEMONSTRATING CAN KILL CANCER CELLS ON A PETRIE DISH AND HOW DO YOU GET IT FROM THE PETRIE DISH INTO ACTIVE CANCER SITES IN HUMAN BODIES?

That’s the next big step. That’s what our immediate goal is. But we’re hoping that through this press release and getting some of the data out there, maybe some private funding group or some industry will step in and help us out here. I’ve already received a call from the National Cancer Institute and they are looking to see if people there can work with us and help move this forward.

IT ALMOST SOUNDS AS IF YOU COULD GENERATE THIS AAV-2 VIRUS IN BULK, IT COULD ALMOST BE APPLIED TO CANCER TUMORS DIRECTLY IN SOME WAY AND THEY WOULD KILL THE CANCERS.

Yeah, because with industrial techniques, we can make as much of this virus as we need to. We can make liters and liters of it. Making the reagent is not going to be the big problem. The problem is getting through the red tape. What do we still have to do to prove that it’s ready to go into patients?

BUT IF IT’S ALREADY EXISTING IN 80% OF THE HUMAN POPULATION, WHY COULDN’T THIS BE FULL SPEED AHEAD AS A WAY TO CURE AS MANY CANCERS AS POSSIBLE JUST BY TRYING IT?

I would think that. But not having ­ I’m a basic scientist. We just deal in the laboratory. So I don’t have a lot of experience in the area of clinical trials. But you would think there is a lot in favor of moving it forward fast. The fact that so many people have been infected by this AAV-2 virus and it’s never hurt anybody. In the lab, we’ve shown it does not hurt the normal cells. It only hurts the cancer cells. So you would think it could move forward. But the way red tape and everything is now days. You have to be careful. There are a lot of people who come up with things they say might be important. But in the end, it does not work or makes people sick. But I don’t see how this is going to do that. I don’t see it making people sick. It’s been around in most of us at one time or another and it’s never made anybody sick. So, it should be able to move forward quickly.

USING THE METAPHOR OF PUTTING THE CANCER CELL ON A PETRIE DISH AND THEN APPLYING THE AAV-2 VIRUS WHICH KILLS IT, COULD YOU TAKE THE RAW AAV-2 VIRUS FROM THE PETRIE DISH AND PAINT IT, SO TO SPEAK, ON A SKIN MELANOMA OR SKIN SQUAMOUS CELL CANCER. WOULD IT ATTACK SKIN CANCERS IMMEDIATELY?

That’s what we are thinking. Squamous cell carcinoma which we tested from a skin cancer and we would think you could just apply it. Maybe someone could put the AAV-2 virus in a cream or salve or we just put it on or inject it inside the tissue to work its way out. Again, if we get the clinical trials, there may be multiple techniques tried or someone will sit down and figure out what is the best chance, or the best way of doing it, and try that.”


Website:

Penn State: http://live.psu.edu/story/12505


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