"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."
The study was presented June 20, 2005, at the 24th annual meeting of the American Society for Virology held June 18-22 at Penn State, University Park campus.
Although the reason why remains unclear, population-based studies have shown that people who carry AAV2 tend not to develop human papillomavirus- (HPV-) associated cervical cancer. In general, AAV2 requires association with a helper virus in order to replicate. When it finds a helper virus, such as HPV, AAV2 disrupts the life cycle of the host and induces apoptosis, a type of cell death.
"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.