Study: Anthrax A Powerful Weapon — In Fight Against Cancer?


  • Scientists have created a fast-acting, effective way to kill bladder cancer cells using the anthrax toxin.
  • The researchers believe their unique system could potentially even be used to treat other cancers, too.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Bladder cancer kills roughly 16,000 Americans annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Moreover, it is among the most expensive cancers to treat, and most current treatment methods are invasive and uncomfortable. Patients often must sit constantly for hours while their bladder is filled with a substance intended to kill cancer cells and tumors. However, a team of researchers from Purdue University say they have formulated a new method of bladder cancer treatment, and it involves an ingredient that you probably weren’t expecting: anthrax.

Anthrax often conjures up images of decaying, infected animal carcasses for some, or it may stir fears of biological warfare and terrorist threats for others. But now it may be used to help heal, rather than hurt, incredibly. The study’s authors say they have created a way to combine the anthrax toxin with a specialized growth factor that only targets 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 associate professor R. Claudio Aguilar, the assistant head of biological sciences in Purdue’s College of Science, in a release. “It is basically like creating a special solution that targets cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone.”

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According to Aguilar, the human bladder includes a protective layer that shields healthy cells from the anthrax mixture but offers no such safe haven for cancer cells. After testing their new method on dogs suffering from bladder cancer and had exhausted all other treatment options, they discovered the anthrax mixture effectively shrunk the canines’ tumors without causing any harmful side effects.

Furthermore, researchers say their new system begins working and killing cancer cells within minutes. That’s a major improvement over the hours it usually takes for more traditional bladder cancer treatments to activate.

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

The research team at Purdue doesn’t think their treatment has to be limited to bladder cancer either. They say a similar method using anthrax may be able to help both humans and animals suffering from other cancers such as lung or skin.

The study is published in the International Journal of Cancer.

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