We may be 5 years away from defeating this killer.
Craig M. Meyers, a distinguished professor of microbiology and immunology at Penn State, has made a career out of studying the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). In 2008, he was conducting an experiment to see the effect another virus, called adeno-associated virus type 2 (AAV2), would have on HPV. The team introduced AAV2 into the cell lines of a cancerous HPV specimen and left them to incubate for a week.
BYU Magazine reports, the results of this test left the team convinced they had made a mistake. All the cancerous cells had died.
Finding a virus that killed cancerous HPV cells was remarkable because, unlike HPV, there is little known about the AAV2 virus. There had been no crucial need for AAV2 research because, while the virus does infect humans, it has no known negative effect on the human body. However, in that tissue culture dish in 2008, Meyers discovered that AAV2 was somehow causing the HPV cancer cells to kill themselves. He discovered that, in a sense, the cancer cells were being reprogrammed to stop living, a process called apoptosis.
Meyers assumed they had a faulty incubator and conducted the same experiment a dozen more times with the same results before he was convinced that they had something special. The success of AAV2 against cancerous HPV cells led the team to begin testing on other forms of cancer. They found that AAV2 worked on breast cancer, prostate cancer, squamous cell carcinoma, melanoma, and mesothelioma.
It has been a long road since 2008, but Meyers still has further to go. The research still has more trials to run before the FDA will allow it to go to human testing. It is possible we might see this new treatment in hospitals within the next 5 years.