The common cold ‘could cure bladder cancer’: Scientists discover a strain of the virus ‘destroys tumours on the organ’s inner lining’ and even left one patient with no trace of the disease

  • A week of treatment with coxsackievirus helps the immune system fight tumours
  • It infects cancer cells, causes bladder to ‘swell’ and immune cells to ‘flood in’
  • Caused no ‘significant’ side effects;  could ‘transform the way we treat cancer’

The common cold could one day be used to cure bladder cancer, research suggests.

A study found a strain of the cold virus called coxsackievirus (CVA21) destroys cancerous cells in the organ’s inner lining. 

The majority of the study’s 15 patients showed signs of ‘cell death’ within their tumours after just one week of treatment.

And one cancer sufferer even had no trace of the disease remaining afterwards, the study showed. 

CVA21 infects cancer cells within the bladder, which causes the organ to become inflamed. Immune cells then ‘flood in’, destroying the tumours.

Researchers believe the treatment, which caused no significant side effects, could ‘transform the way we treat cancer’.  

The common cold could one day be used to cure bladder cancer, research suggests (stock)

The research was carried out by the University of Surrey and Royal Surrey County Hospital. It was led by Dr Hardev Pandha, professor of medical oncology at the university.

‘Coxsackievirus could help revolutionise treatment for this type of cancer,’ Dr Pandha said. 

‘Reduction of tumour burden and increased cancer cell death was observed in all patients, and removed all trace of the disease in one patient following just one week of treatment, showing its potential effectiveness. 

‘Notably, no significant side effects were observed in any patient.’ 

The researchers analysed 15 patients with non-muscle invasive bladder cancer (NMIBC) one week before they were due to have their tumours surgically removed.

NMIBC only affects the inner surface of the bladder, with the disease not invading the organ’s muscular wall.

It is the 10th most common form of cancer in the UK, with around 10,000 cases being diagnosed every year, the scientists wrote in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.

And in the US, around 80,470 people are expected to develop bladder cancer this year, according to the National Cancer Institute.

WHAT IS NON-MUSCLE INVASIVE BLADDER CANCER? 

Non-muscle invasive bladder cancer (NMIBC) occurs when the disease only affects the inner lining of the bladder.

The cancerous cells have not yet grown through the lining into the deeper muscle layer of the organ.

NMIBC is the tenth most common form of cancer in the UK, with around 10,000 cases being diagnosed every year, statistics show.

Around 80,470 people in the US are expected to develop bladder cancer this year, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Statistics show between 70 and 85 per cent of these cases are NMIBC. 

If NMIBC becomes advanced, the malignant cells can move into the connective tissue beneath the bladder lining.

A trans urethral resection is typically the go-to treatment for early stages of the disease.

This involves a surgeon removing the tumour via the urethra. 

As well as being invasive, cancerous cells re-emerge between 50 and 70 per cent of the time.

Over the next two-to-five years, these cells replicate and become more advanced in 10-to-20 per cent of cases. 

If trans urethral resection is ineffective, chemo may be required.

Some patients also may have a small electrical current passed through their bladder, which appears to make chemotherapy work better. 

Others may be treated with the live bacteria Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG).

BCG is put directly into the bladder where it ‘turns on’ the immune system. 

Immune cells are then attracted to the organ and attack the tumour.

A third of patients do not respond to this at all, with many then being forced to have their entire bladder removed.

And another third suffer side effects.  

These can be serious, and include bladder infection, anaemia and kidney problems. 

Statistics show between 70 and 85 per cent of these cases are NMIBC.

The 15 patients had the naturally-occurring virus CVA21 inserted into their bladders via a catheter.

The virus was found to infect cancerous cells, which caused the diseased part of the bladder to become inflamed.

This resulted in immune cells flooding into the organ, killing malignant cells. 

CVA21 then replicated within these cells, which caused them to rupture and die.

Tumours in the bladder do not typically have immune cells, which prevents a patient’s own immune system fighting off them off as they grow. 

Urine samples taken from the patients on alternate days showed the virus was ‘shedding’.

This suggests that once cancerous cells had died, the newly replicated viruses attacked more malignant areas, the researchers claim. 

Following treatment, cell death was identified in the ‘majority’ of the patients’ tumours. 

One patient even showed no trace of cancer during their surgery.  

After going under the knife, tissue samples from the patients were examined. 

These revealed CVA21 was ‘highly selective’ and only targeted cancer cells, not healthy tissue.  

NMIBC is tricky to treat. A trans urethral resection is typically the go-to for early stages of the disease.

This involves a surgeon removing a tumour via the urethra. 

As well as being invasive, cancerous cells re-emerge between 50 and 70 per cent of the time, the researchers wrote.

Over the next two to five years, these cells replicate and become more advanced in 10 to 20 per cent of cases, they added.  

Patients may also be treated with the live bacteria Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG).

BCG is put directly into the bladder where it ‘turns on’ the immune system. 

Immune cells are then attracted to the organ and attack the tumour.

A third of patients do not respond to BCG at all, with many then being forced to have their entire bladder removed.

And another third suffer side effects. These can be serious, and include bladder infection, anaemia and kidney problems.  

There is also a worldwide shortage of BCG, which further adds to the need for new treatments, the researchers wrote. 

‘Non-muscle invasive bladder cancer is a highly prevalent illness that requires an intrusive and often lengthy treatment plan,’ Dr Pandha said. 

‘Current treatment is ineffective and toxic in a proportion of patients, and there is an urgent need for new therapies.’

Study author Dr Nicola Annels, research fellow at the University of Surrey, added: ‘Traditionally viruses have been associated with illness however in the right situation they can improve our overall health and wellbeing by destroying cancerous cells. 

‘Oncolytic viruses such as the coxsackievirus could transform the way we treat cancer and could signal a move away from more established treatments such as chemotherapy.’  

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