Anthrax may be an unlikely ally against bladder cancer
If movies have taught us anything, it’s that sometimes to fight one villain, you have to team up with another. Medical science occasionally follows the same logic and in the latest example, researchers have turned to anthrax as an unlikely ally in the fight against bladder cancer, with promising results in animal tests.
Bladder cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer, and while it is often caught early, it does have a high chance of recurring down the track. Currently treatment is rather invasive and uncomfortable – intravesical chemotherapy involves inserting a catheter through the urethra, filling the bladder with a drug solution, holding it there for a couple of hours, then emptying it out through the catheter again.
For the new study, researchers from Purdue University developed a similar method, but one that works in as little as three minutes. Rather than conventional chemotherapy drugs, the active ingredient is the anthrax toxin, mixed with a growth factor.
As alarming as it sounds to willingly put anthrax into your body, the bladder can handle it. The organ is used to handling toxins after all, so it has a protective layer that shields healthy cells. Tumors and cancer cells aren’t so lucky though – they’re exposed to the drug mixture, which triggers the cell death process within minutes.
“We have effectively come up with a promising method to kill the cancer cells without harming the normal cells in the bladder,” says R. Claudio Aguilar, corresponding author of the study. “It is basically like creating a special solution that targets cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone.”
The team tested the technique on human bladder cancer cells in the lab, and found that just three minutes of exposure to the drug was enough to eliminate the tumors. In tests in living mice and dogs, the treatment worked well, too. Importantly, in groups of both animals that had no cancer at all, the drug mixture showed no toxicity to healthy cells.
The researchers also tested the method in pet dogs that had bladder cancer, and had run out of other treatment options. In those cases, the drug shrank tumors by an average of 30 percent after just one treatment cycle. No other side effects were reported.
Of course, success in animal studies doesn’t guarantee success in humans, but it’s a promising start.
The research was published in the International Journal of Cancer.
Source: Purdue University