The common cold virus could cure cancer, scientists say, as a “revolutionary” treatment was found to eradicate the disease in a week.
A study published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research on Thursday found that a strain of the common cold virus was found to potentially target, infect and destroy cancer cells in patients with bladder cancer. In one case, any traces of the cancer were completely eliminated following treatment with the virus and in 14 others there was evidence that cancer cells had died.
University of Surrey researchers said the virus could “help revolutionize treatment” for the cancer and reduce the risk of it recurring.
“The virus gets inside cancer cells and kills them by triggering an immune protein and that leads to signaling of other immune cells to come and join the party,” said Hardev Pandha, principal investigator of the study and professor of medical oncology at the University of Surrey.
Researchers treated patients diagnosed with non-muscle invasive bladder cancer with a strain of the naturally occurring coxsackievirus. The patients were given a dose of the virus via catheter into the bladder one week before they were set to have surgery to remove the cancerous tumors.
Notably, there were no visible side effects observed in any of the patients as healthy cells around the tumours were left intact.
A bladder cancer charity called the study “very exciting” if larger studies confirmed the findings.
Allen Knight, chairman of Action Bladder Cancer UK, said: “If the safety, tolerability, and efficacy data can be confirmed in larger clinical studies and trials, then it could herald a new era in the treatment for non-muscle-invasive bladder cancer patients, like me, who often feel that innovations in cancer therapies pass us by.”
Current treatments for this type of bladder cancer are invasive or can cause serious, toxic side effects.
To geneticists, the science makes perfect sense. It is a fact of human biology that healthy cells are programmed to die when they become infected by a virus, because this prevents the virus spreading to other parts of the body. But a cancerous cell is immortal; through its mutations it has somehow managed to turn off the bits of its genetic program that enforce cell suicide.
This means that, if a suitable virus infects a cancer cell, it could continue to replicate inside it uncontrollably, and causes the cell to ‘lyse’ – or, in non-technical language, tear apart. The progeny viruses then spread to cancer cells nearby and repeat the process. A virus becomes, in effect, a cancer of cancer. Prof Essand studied his virus surges through the bloodstreams of test animals, rupturing cancerous cells with Viking rapacity almost 10 years ago.
The Uppsala virus isn’t unique. Since the 1880’s, doctors have known that viral infections can cause dramatic reductions in tumors. In 1890 an Italian clinician discovered that prostitutes with cervical cancer went into remission when they were vaccinated against rabies, and for several years he wandered the Tuscan countryside injecting women with dog saliva. In another, 20th-century, case, a 14-year-old boy with lymphatic leukemia caught chickenpox: within a few days his grotesquely enlarged liver and spleen had returned to ordinary size; his explosive white blood cell count had shrunk nearly 50-fold, back to normal.