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Just Thought I'd Mention
Saturday, 10.01.2011, 07:48pm (GMT-5)
C G Herndon
I’d like to hear more. When an exciting breakthrough make its way to the forefront, anticipation of problems solved emanate, promises of life improved and worries swept away flourish, but then, like ‘New Coke’, the hype proves deceptive and the theoretical advance disappears never to be heard of again.
Guarantees of 60 mpg family cars, male enhancement and Latin fluent one-year-olds dot our past like grease spots on Kirstie Alley’s Jenny Craig contract. Handicapped by optimism, humans read, believe, praise and eventually forget “amazing” breakthroughs as the chatter inevitably fades to silence. You can’t criticize a researcher for releasing early information about a potential breakthrough, they’re excited by the discovery, but those reports should be received with a grain of salt, early indications don’t mean actual applications.
With reluctant excitement in mind I’d like to toast scientists at the Penn State College of Medicine for their discovery of the ‘Adeno-Associated Virus type 2’ (AAV2). It’s true, viruses get a bad rap. AIDS has caused a ‘sexual protection revolution’, thousands of American Indians were killed by small pox and the pandemic of 1918 left over 3% of the world population dead. But AAV2 is the ‘Enik the Sleestak’ of viruses.
A quick Bio 101 review of viruses tells us they are “an infective agent, too small to be seen by a light microscope and able to multiply only within the living cells of a host”. They are microscopic terrorists that hi-jack a cell and use it’s DNA to create more of their own while they destroy it. Kind of like what choosing to have children does to your bank account.
While cell destruction is typically bad it has an upside when those cells are cancerous. Researchers at Penn State think the AAV2 virus chooses cancer cells as their host, destroying them in short order with no negative side effects. How do we know AAV2 has no negative side effects? It’s already present and causing no issues in about 4/5ths of the population. Researchers also found that women carrying both HPV (which causes cervical cancer) along with AAV2 had a lower incidence of cervical cancer.
Back in 2005 Penn State researcher, Dr. Craig Meyers reported, "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. 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."
Recently, the researchers discovered when combined in the lab, within seven days the AAV2 completely killed all types of breast cancer cells regardless of their stage. Researchers’ next step is to isolate the exact viral genes in AAV2 responsible and insert them into human cells (gene therapy) to see if they can simulate the same effect; a Seal Team 6 approach, of sorts.
With almost a quarter-million new breast cancer cases discovered in the U.S. every year that’s excellent news. Maybe catching a common virus will reduce the 40,000 deaths attributed to breast cancer annually to zero. And when it does we can raise a glass of ‘Coca-Cola Classic’ to Penn State. I’d like to hear more, just thought I’d mention that.