Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells within the body. Common forms of treatment include the targeted destruction of the mutated cells through radiation or chemotherapy or the removal of the cells once they have amassed into a tumor. More recently, preventative measures, including the use of vaccines, have become a common focus in the fight against certain types of cancer. The National Cancer Institute describes these cancer vaccines as representing “an emerging type of biological therapy that is still mostly experimental.”
Yet, those researching the cause & prevention of cancer know that the use of vaccines is not a new idea. Evidence of early research into the commonalities between viruses and cancer is found in the University of Minnesota Archives.
Dr. Robert G. Green, M.D. joined the staff of the Department of Bacteriology in 1918. In the 1920s, Dr. Green’s research focused on the evolutionary nature of viruses and how they cause disease. Dr. Green also directed the Minnesota Wildlife Disease Investigation, sponsored by the State of Minnesota, the University of Minnesota, and the United States Biological Survey. During his tenure, he created a vaccine to prevent encephalitis in foxes. Based on this work with viruses, he went on to investigate how cancer cells spread in the body. In 1946 he published an article on “Virus Aspects of Carcinoma” and in 1947 he published “The Species Character of Cancer Cells” in Science.
Green’s papers are also a fascinating study of the early work done in ecology and the crossover between researchers and the fields of medicine, zoology, and conservation. Examples include correspondence with Aldo Leopold and Charles Elton.
A 1935 letter from Leopold documents the sharing ideas. Leopold writes “I thought you might be interested in the enclosed publication by Allen and Baldwin, indicating a cycle in the effectiveness of nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the process of passage through successive host plants. This comes very near the Matamek hypothesis of cyclic virulence in pathogenic bacteria.”
View the finding aid for the Robert G. Green, M.D. papers available at the University of Minnesota Archives.