Breast cancer cells have been killed in a laboratory by a harmless virus, presenting the possibility for the development of new cancer treatments. More study is needed, of course, but it looks promising. The laboratory's results were published in the journal Molecular Cancer.
The experiment was performed at Pennsylvania State (Penn State) School of Medicine. Researchers tested the virus on three different breast cancer cell groups, which represented three different stages (grades) of development. The virus, called adeno-associated virus type 2 (AAV2), had previously been tested successfully on cervical cancer cells. AAV2 infects humans frequently but does not cause illness.
"Because it has multiple stages, you can't treat all women the same. Currently, treatment of breast cancer is dependent on multiple factors such as hormone dependency, invasiveness, and metastases, drug resistance, and potential toxicities. Our study shows that AAV2, as a single entity, targets all different grades of breast cancer," according to Samina Alam, PhD, research associate. She noted that it is complex to treat.
It is unclear at this point exactly how the virus manages to kill cancer cells. Healthy but damaged cells have a way of killing themselves. Cancer cells just keep multiplying. Finding a way to kill them or turn them off is the goal. Scientists are trying to find the mechanism that makes AAV2 work. In the lab, AAV2 managed to kill 100% of the cancer cells in seven days, although a particularly aggressive type of breast cancer cell took three weeks to kill off.
"If we can determine the pathways the virus is triggering, we can then screen new drugs that target those pathways. Or, we may simply be able to use the virus itself," said Dr. Alam.
Penn State researchers also tried the virus on other cancer cells, including prostate, mesothelioma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma--successfully. It has also killed the most aggressive breast cancer cells in mice.
But as a human treatment, it will not happen in the immediate future. Animal trials come first, and if they are successful, three rigorous human trials remain.