After millennia of causing mild misery, the cold virus gives something back to humanity. A groundbreaking research has shown that a strain of the common cold virus can infect and kill bladder cancer cells.
Reported in the magazine Clinical cancer research, scientists at the University of Surrey in the UK treated 15 people with non-muscle-invasive bladder cancer using a live strain of coxsackie virus, or CVA21, which usually causes mild flu-like symptoms. They were given an infusion of the beetle through a catheter before undergoing surgery to remove and examine the tumors.
During the operation, one week after the infusion, there was evidence that the virus had targeted and killed cancer cells in the bladder while all other cells remained intact. In fact, one patient had no trace of cancer left.
Although this study is small-scale and requires further research, there is hope for new treatments against non-muscle-invasive bladder cancer, which can often prove difficult to treat.
"Non-muscle-invasive bladder cancer is a common disease that requires a major and often long-term treatment plan. Current treatment is ineffective and toxic in some patients and there is an urgent need for new therapies," Hardev Pandha, lead investigator of the study and professor of Medical Oncology at the University of Surrey, said in a statement.
"Coxsackie virus can revolutionize the treatment of this type of cancer. Reduction of tumor burden and increased cancer cell death was observed in all patients and removed all traces of the disease in one patient after just one week of treatment, demonstrating potential effectiveness."
"In particular, no significant side effects have been observed in a patient."
The treatment works because the virus infects the cancer cells and replicates itself, causing the cells to burst and die. The virus also helps to fuel "immunological heat" in the affected area. Tumors in the bladder often have no immune cells, so the body does not always point to the cancer. The cold virus causes the infected tumors to ignite and alerts the patient's own immune system.
A virus that preferably infects and kills cancer cells is known as an oncolytic virus. Scientists first met them in the late 1800s after noticing some cancer patients go into remission, often only temporarily after a viral infection.
The first oncolytic virus that is received FDA approval a genetically modified form of a herpes virus to treat melanoma. They remain promising as a cancer treatment and are currently being studied in clinical trials for a number of cancers, including bladder, prostate, colorectal, ovary, lung, breast and more.
"Traditionally, viruses are associated with disease, but in the right situation, they can improve our overall health and well-being by destroying cancer cells. Oncolytic viruses such as the coxsackie virus could change the way we treat cancer and suggest a shift away from more established treatments such as chemotherapy, "concluded Dr. Nicola Annels, research assistant at the University of Surrey.