Anthrax could be a new weapon to fight bladder cancer

Anthrax may soon help more people win the fight against bladder cancer, according to new research in dogs.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says bladder cancer strikes about 72,000 Americans each year, kills about 16,000, and is one of the most expensive cancers to treat.

The current treatments for the cancer are invasive for patients—who often must sit for hours at a time with a bladder full of an agent designed to kill cancer cells and tumors. Bladder cancer also is one of the most recurring for people diagnosed with the disease.

Now, researchers have come up with a way to combine the anthrax toxin with a growth factor to kill bladder cancer cells and tumors.

“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, an associate professor and the assistant head of biological sciences in Purdue University’s College of Science who works as part of a team focused on cell identity and signaling at the Center for Cancer Research. “It is basically like creating a special solution that targets cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone.”

Aguilar says the bladder has its own protective layer, which saves the good cells from the anthrax mixture but offers no protection for the cancer cells and tumors. He says the new system works within minutes—instead of the usual hours for the cancer treatment—to target the cancer cells in the bladder.

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

The researchers tested their solution in dogs with bladder cancer who had run out of other treatment options. They found this new agent decreased the tumor size without causing any other side effects in the animals.

The team thinks a similar treatment may help people and animals with other cancers, including those affecting the lungs or skin.

The research appears in the International Journal of Cancer.

Additional researchers from Purdue, the Indiana University School of Medicine, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Harvard University contributed to the work.

Aguilar and the other researchers worked with the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization to patent the new treatments.

Source: Purdue University