The struggle has been on-going for decades. Doctors keep repeating the same pieces of medical advice: stop smoking, eat healthy, keep fit. Every now and then we read medical articles stating that a new cure for cancer has been found. Clinical tests, however, may take years and in the meantime the illness takes a deadly toll with almost 600,000 deaths in 2011 in the US alone. Still, the battle is on. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have recently discovered a virus which while completely harmless for us, easily targets the cancer cells. Under laboratory conditions, the agent managed to kill an impressive 100% of the pathologically changed cells.

The AAV2 (adeno-associated virus type 2) virus – for this is its proper name – often infects human beings, without doing completely any harm. Some earlier studies have indicated a possible connection between the virus' properties and the death of cancer cells, which the researchers at the University of Pennsylvania decided to investigate further into the topic. The effectiveness of the virus was tested on three different types of breast cancer, since it is the most common type of cancer in the world which causes millions of deaths every year. The results exceeded wildest expectations. The classic treatment, ie, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and hormonal therapy, is not only exhaustive, but also quite complicated due to the fact that each stage of the condition requires a different approach. The AAV2 virus therapy may be a real revolution, since it effectively eradicates cancerous cells regardless of the stage of the illness.

The medical question automatically raised was: how does it work? To understand that, we should first get a grasp of what differs cancerous cells from healthy ones. Normally, if any cell in our body is damaged, a special type of protein turns on its in-built self-destruction mechanism. In cancer cells, this mechanism becomes deactivated, but the reproduction goes on. A logical and simple way to combat cancer would be to restart the normal self-destruction mechanisms. So far it seems that this is the way the AAV2 virus works.

Under laboratory conditions, the virus managed to destroy all of the cancer cells in just seven days. Now, the scientists are working on how to employ the discovery for therapeutic purposes. One of the latest ideas is to isolate the virus gene responsible for the destruction of cancer cells and use it further in therapy. They are also simply making attempts at introducing the virus to the treatment in its regular form. Unfortunately, the latter method faces a serious barrier, set up by our own immune systems. The AAV2 virus does not attack healthy cells, soonheless our immune system will detect and try to fight it. This is why it may seem more relevant to focus on the specific gene research, although it may take many years until it becomes applicable.

Some other medical articles published by the University of Pennsylvania researchers add demonstrate that AAV2 virus is also effective against prostate cancer, malignant mesothelioma, carcinoma and melanoma.