This everyday virus can successfully kill cancer cells

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According to a new study published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research just last Thursday, coxsackievirus, which is a naturally occurring strain of the common cold virus, was found to infect target and potentially destroy cancer cells in patients suffering from non-muscle invasive bladder cancer or NMIBC. In one case, the cancer was completely eradicated after coxsackievirus A21 was successfully administered. The study’s lead author, Hardev Pandha, who is also a professor of medical oncology at the University of Surrey, is confident that the new pioneering literature will revolutionize treatment for bladder cancer in future patients. 

Currently, methods of treating NMIBC are less than ideal. The two most common ways of addressing the illness, for instance, are each associated with unfortunate setbacks. The first,  Transurethral resection, which removes all visible lesions, comes with a tumor recurrence rate that ranges between a staggering 50% and 70%. This says nothing of its exceedingly high tumor progression-rate that ranges between 10% and 20% over the course of five years. The other common method of treating NMIBC is immunotherapy. This refers to the introduction of weakened bacteria called Bacillus Calmette-Guérinin in order to stimulate the immune system in the early stages of bladder cancer. One-third of patients that receive this form of treatment suffer serious health side effects, and another third don’t respond to it at all. 


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The new study titled, Viral targeting of non-muscle invasive bladder cancer and priming of anti-tumor immunity following intravesical Coxsackievirus A21, began with a pool of patients set to undergo surgery purposed to remove cancerous tumors from their bladder. Participants were given a dose of the highly selective common cold virus via a catheter. After the procedure, the researchers observed urine samples and bladder issue from the patients, finding the coxsackievirus only targeted the cancer cells and left the healthy cells unaffected.  Moreover, once cancer cells had died, the cold virus would strip, replicate itself and then proceed to attack cancer cells in the organ. The coxsackievirus inflamed the tumor, causing immune cells to leap to the environment, assaulting all surrounding cancer cells. 

The oncolytic value of viral targeting 

Cancer holds a unique place in our lexicon of maladies. For one thing, it’s been plaguing us since antiquity. Although one of the earliest documented cases appeared in the famous Edwin Smith Papyrus recorded in ancient Egypt, it was likely the Greek physician, Hippocrates, that gave the disease its name even earlier. The father of medicine applied the words carcinos and carcinoma, to describe the spreading claw-like projections that stem from cancerous ulcers, believing the tumors to vaguely resemble crabs. 

In addition to our long-standing history with the illness that keeps us perpetually terrified of it, is its alien-like nature; the idea that this living entity, grows and feeds on us, though its sole purpose is total self-destruction. The disease’s knack for adaptation has kept medical experts on their toes. There is no cure for the condition presently, but the prognosis for many of its forms has brightened in recent years, thanks in large part to new means of early detection, and creative ways of mitigating the growth of cancerous cells.

“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,” Research Fellow at the University of Surrey Dr. Nicole Annels told Eurekalert.