Penn State Professor identifies a virus that could kill cancer

Posted by Dr. James Liu on

Dr. Craig Meyers, Professor of microbiology and immunology at Penn State College of Medicine, and his research associate, made a big discovery – a simple and small virus can kill cancer cells in the laboratory.

Dr. Meyers has spent the last 18 years at Penn State, most of it was studying human papillomavirus (HPV), the virus is linked to cervical cancer.

A few years ago, he was continuing his research into HPV, cervical cancer and the relationship with adeno-associated virus type 2 (AAV2). Other studies indicated that women with cervical cancer don’t have AAV2 and women with AAV2 don’t have cervical cancer. Dr. Meyers and his lab were trying to figure out why.

Their method was simple: Infect groups of cervical cancer cells with AAV2 and harvest the cells after 24, 48 or 72 hours to note any changes taking place.

On a whim, Professor Meyers told one of his research assistants to infect a cancer cell culture and let it sit for awhile — say, a week.

A week later, she walked into his office and said something strange had happened. That culture of cancer cells they had infected a week ago? All cancer cells were dead.

“We thought something had gone wrong,” Meyers said. “My first reaction was: ‘The incubator. I’ll have to get the incubator fixed.’”

The lab repeated the process five, ten, a dozen times. Each time, it had the same result. A week after being infected with AAV2, the cervical cancer cells were dead.

The lab began to spread out its research, collecting other types of cancer samples from other labs to infect with AAV2, including breast cancer.

Each time, they had the same results: Infect the cancer cells, wait a week and the cells die. By replicating the experiment, the laboratory was able to gain some understanding of the mechanics of what was happening.

“What the virus seems to be doing is turning on [a gene in] all these cancer cells that causes them to die, to turn on themselves and commit suicide,” Meyers said.

Even more encouraging, when his lab infected mice that had human breast cancer tumors with AAV2 earlier this year, they found the tumors had liquefied — a reassuring result because that isn’t always true.

“A lot of times in science, you tend to plan out your experiments and you have a goal, your hypothesis of what you’re trying to prove,” Meyers said. “But sometimes you see bits of data or someone else’s work and you get an idea … a lot of times some of the best things come from those little ideas.”

Best wishes to Dr. Meyers!

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