Craig Meyers didn’t set out to find a cancer killer, but as experiments go, you don’t always get what you expect. In this case, in 2008 he and his assistant were conducting an experiment using a little known virus to fight HPV, when unexpectedly, all of the HPV cells died. Now, he is hoping to continue his research that has shown promise in killing other types of cancer – including mesothelioma – to find a new anti-cancer treatment.
After discovering that the adeno-associated virus type 2 virus (AAV2), known to infect humans but not known to cause sickness, actually led HPV (human papillomavirus) cancer cells to kill themselves, Craig Meyers, Penn State Distinguished Professor of Microbiology and Immunology and BYU alumnus, immediately began using AAV2 against multiple other cancer lines, including mesothelioma cells, according to the Summer 2017 issue of BYU Magazine. Meyers was once again shocked when he found that all these cancer cells also died.
“We . . . collected different cancer cell lines—breast cancer, prostate cancer, squamous cell carcinoma, melanoma, and mesothelioma cells,” he says. “We tested them all, and [AAV2] worked in them all,” said Meyers.
Myers has spent his time since 2008 trying to better understand why AAV2 kills cancer cells, although he says, “That’s the million-dollar question,” and upgrading his tests from petri dishes to mouse models. The next step is human testing.
The fact that Myers had success against mesothelioma lines brings hope that an effective treatment could be available to mesothelioma patients in the future. The asbestos-caused cancer, that strikes close to 3,000 Americans each year, is incurable and leaves many patients with a poor quality of life.
Myers has spent his career trying to find a successful treatment for HPV, a sexually transmitted disease, that can lead to cervical cancer. When his “accidental” discovery led him to realize that AAV2 led the HPV cancer cells to apoptosis, he began his work to bring this breakthrough to helping all cancer patients.
“Until I can get to this last set of trials, I have to caution people . . . that we don’t have a cure yet and at any step this could just stop working. That’s always the nightmare.”