How could anthrax possibly alleviate bladder cancer?

Could this otherwise deadly poison help people in the fight against bladder cancer?
Could this otherwise deadly poison help people in the fight against bladder cancer?

Bladder cancer starts in the cell lining of the bladder and can easily spread to the rest of the body if not treated in time. In South Africa, it’s more common among men, especially smokers.

Treatment involves surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or immunotherapy. Bladder cancer can be one of the most expensive cancers to treat and treatments are often very uncomfortable for patients, as they have to sit for hours with a bladder full of an agent that kills cancer cells.

Why treatment often causes problems

Unfortunately, the treatment often kills off surrounding cells as well, leading to a host of side-effects, depending on which treatment is chosen.

Drugs that are placed inside the bladder may cause irritation and mild bleeding for days after treatment.

Now, according to a news release, researchers from Purdue University may have found a way to combine anthrax toxin with a growth factor, which will kill bladder cancer cells and tumours without harming surrounding healthy cells.

"We have effectively come up with a promising method to kill the cancer cells without harming the normal cells in the bladder," said R. Claudio Aguilar, an associate professor and the assistant head of biological sciences in Purdue's College of Science. "It is basically like creating a special solution that targets cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone."

The new research is published in the International Journal of Cancer.

How does this work?

But why would you want to insert a deadly poison into the human body? Well, quite frankly, the bladder can handle it. 

Aguilar explained that the bladder has a protective layer, saving good cells from the anthrax mixture, but offering no protection for cancerous cells and tumours. And where current treatment takes hours, this new system destroys targeted cells within minutes.

The research team tested the technique on cancer cells from a human bladder and found that three minutes of exposure was enough to eradicate cancerous cells and tumours. 

The same technique was used to help treat bladder cancer in pet dogs. In these cases, the drug shrank the cancerous tumours by almost 30% after only one cycle of treatment, without any side-effects reported.

More research is needed before this treatment can be successfully implemented in humans in a clinical setting, but according to Aguilar and his team, it is a promising development. 

"We have seen outstanding results with our treatment. It is fast and effective, both of which are critical for people dealing with this devastating disease," said Aguilar.

Image credit: iStock

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