Bladder Cancer has an Unusual Potential Cure: The Common Cold Virus

Bladder cancer picture

Bladder Cancer cures have come in a number of curious, surprising flavors over the years but one of the most unusual ones came from a research team in Surrey. This team made the bold claim that the common cold virus could potentially “revolutionize the treatment” of bladder cancer. In addition to treating the cancer, the survey team also discovered that it significantly lowered the chances of the cancer coming back. “We were shocked and pleased to discover that the virus strain that causes colds not only targeted and destroyed bladder cancer, but it also worked to prevent it from returning. It’s definitely an unusual discovery and an even more unusual potential cure, but the results are there and they look promising,” says the team.

According to the BBC, who the team shared the research results with, this particular strain of the common cold actually destroyed the bladder cancer by infecting it. “it was pretty crazy. Just like the common cold or another virus infects us, the strain started attacking and infecting the cancer. It was an instant response as well. It was like the strain found these cancer cells to be far more appealing than our own healthy ones,” researchers said.

But what is this based on? How much research has been done? Currently, this proposal is based entirely on one single patient. In the patient that was exposed to the cold virus strain, all of the cancer cells disappeared completely. The virus attacked and destroyed them. The team also discovered that the presence of this strain prevented the cancer cells from coming back. However, evidence regarding the death of cells were seen in 14 other patients who were also exposed to the virus strain. This definitely means that the team needs to do a lot more research and conduct a much larger study, but they remain very hopeful. A bladder cancer charity has also praised the team’s work and said that “it’s very exciting to see these kinds of results so early on into the process,”. They also remain hopeful that a bigger patient survey will yield more positive results. “Right now, it’s a waiting game but we’ve got hope on the horizon.”

How was the Study Conducted on bladder cancer?

cells in the bladder begin to grow abnormally

The research team gathered 15 patients who were all afflicted with bladder cancer. These patients were given the coxsackievirus, or CVA21 through a catheter. This was done approximately one week before they were scheduled to have tumor removal surgery. After the surgery was conducted, tissue samples were taken from the patients for analysis.  The samples were rigorously studied and the research team discovered that the virus had not only targeted the cancer cells within the organ, but that it also killed them without remorse. The virus continued to reproduce and attack cancer cells, but it miraculously left the healthy cells alone.

“We were worried at first that the virus would discriminate against which cells it attacked. However, it only attacked the cancer cells and went after them with extreme prejudice. It never bothered the healthy cells; even after it rain out of cancer cells to infect.” This is the power behind virus-based therapy.

In the results, the team also discovered that the tumor had been significantly reduced and they also saw a heightened level of cancer cell death in all of the patients being observed. In one patient, the disease had been completely removed from their body just one week after treatment.

Virus-Based Therapy: What is it and How does it Work?

type of bladder cell where cancer begins determines the type of bladder cancer

Virus-based therapy is exactly like what it sounds like: it’s the use of modified virus strains to treat medical conditions such as cancer. For the purpose of this article, we’ll focus on CVA21, which is the strain that was used for the bladder cancer patients in the test.

CVA21 or Cavatak as it is more commonly known as, is a virus-based therapy. It’s currently in its investigational period and a lot of research is needed, but the parent company Viralytics remains confident. Currently, it’s limited to clinical trials and is being used as possible treatment for a number of different cancers. Currently, bladder cancer test results have shown the best results. Cavatek does contain the live cold virus, also known as coxsackievirus A21, and according to Viralytics and research teams, this strain has the ability to target and destroy a wide variety of cancer cells. “It probably sounds counterproductive giving a patient the common cold virus in order to treat cancer, but it’s very practical and it works. We’re not infecting them with a virus; we’re using a modified strain to attack and negate the unhealthy cells,” Viralytics says.

How does it work?

Cavatak attaches to proteins called intracellular adhesion molecule as well as decay acceleration factors. Both of these proteins are found on the surface of a variety of different cancer cells. They’re abundantly present, so Cavatek has its pick of the litter so to speak. After attaching itself to either of these proteins on the cancer cell, the virus is able to wiggle its way inside the cancer cell. From here, it begins to multiply; viruses adore making copies of themselves and cancer cells are like a factory for the strain. From here, the virus continues to reproduce until there is no more room left inside the cancer cell and it bursts. This destroys the cancer cell in the process. These copies then spread and infect other cancer cells within the body, repeating the process.

The cancer cells that explode under the weight of the copies will also release proteins. This action triggers the body’s immune system that recognizes them as foreign and hostile cells within the body. This prompts an anti-cancer immunity response from the body. “This is what helps to stop the cancer cells from coming back. The lysis, or cancer cell explosion, has worked the body’s immune system into a frenzy,” Viralytics says.

According to Professor Hardev Pandha from the Royal Surrey County Hospital and University of Surrey explained that, “once the virus gets inside the cells and starts killing them, an immune protein is released. This is like an open invitation to other immune cells to come and get in on the action. After all, everyone wants to join a party and if it’s open invite, they’re all coming! This is what makes this treatment so revolutionary and so powerful. Not only is it doing a lot of the heavy lifting itself, but it’s also engaging your body’s immune system as well. This often becomes weakened and in some cases inactive when cancer is present. However, this release of proteins creates a frenzy inside of the patient’s immune system.”

The virus also works wonders in the bladder since the tumors here are cold. These tumors do not have the immune cells necessary to fend off cancer; especially since they are cold under normal circumstances. The virus strain gets them “hot”, which also causes the body’s immune system to spring into action. “Because they’re cold, they might get overlooked by the body’s immune system. They fly under the radar so to speak. But once they start warming up thanks to the virus, it becomes much easier for the immune system to find and attack them. Plus since they’re cold, they lack defenses which makes it even easier for the virus to slip inside without any problems,” the team says.

As an added bonus, there were no significant side effects from the treatment. “None of the patients had any serious side effects from the treatment, which makes it all the more appealing. Chemo and other treatment options can be incredibly hard on patients. The fact that we didn’t see any serious side effects gives us all hope that we can treat this condition as quickly and humanely as possible so that people can go back to their daily lives quickly,” said the research team.

What is Bladder Cancer and How is it Currently Treated?

Female Urinary System

In the UK alone, non-muscle invasive bladder cancer is in the top 10 as far as the most common types of cancers are concerned. While it only occupies the number 10 spot, it’s still a very serious medical condition. Each year, 10,000 new patients come forward with the disease. In the United States, 68,000 people are affected each and every year. The disease is also far more prevalent in men than it is women. While it mostly affects adults, nearly any age group is at risk of getting it. And unfortunately, the treatments that are currently available for bladder cancer has some really serious side effects and the treatments are almost always invasive.

Bladder cancer typically starts its life within the cells that line your bladder’s inside. While it’s obviously more common in the bladder, it can affect other parts of your urinary tract system. Luckily, 7 out of every 10 bladder cancers begin at an early stage where it is highly receptive to treatment. Unfortunately, even if caught in the earliest stages, the cancer may come back to the bladder in the future. Because of this, patients who have had bladder cancer will need to do follow-up tests for several years following treatment to make sure that the cancer doesn’t come back or advance to a higher stage.

What causes it?

Bladder cancer occurs when the cells within the organ start to grow abnormally. Rather than dividing and growing in a normal, ordered way, these cells become afflicted with mutations. These mutations cause them to reproduce and grow out of control without dying. These excess cells then form a tumor.

Some of the known causes include:

  • Tobacco use and smoking
  • Frequent exposure to chemicals (especially if that’s a part of your 9 to 5 job)
  • Radiation exposure in the past
  • Frequent irritation to the bladder’s lining
  • Parasite infections (typically picked up by those who travel outside of the US to certain areas.)

How is it treated?

Currently, surgery is the only way of treating bladder cancer. This is why the results found by the current research team are so important. Here are the current surgeries used to treat bladder cancer:

TURBT (Transurethral bladder tumor resection)-

TURBT is used for staging, diagnosis, and treatment of bladder cancer. A surgeon will insert a cytoscope into the bladder via the urethra. The tumor is then removed using a small wire loop, fulguration (high-energy electricity), or a laser. The  patient will also be given an anesthetic to make the process more comfortable. For those with bladder cancer, this treatment may completely get rid of it. However, you may also need additional treatments to lower the chances of it returning. Intravesical chemotherapy and immunotherapy are commonly recommended.

Lymph node dissection and radical cystectomy-

A radical cystectomy involves the removal of the entire bladder as well as nearby tissues/organs that have also been infected or are severe risk. For women, the uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, and part of the vagina may be removed during the procedure. For men, the urethra and prostate may be taken out. Regardless of gender, the pelvis lymph nodes are also removed. This is the best way to prevent the cancer from spreading. In some cases, only part of the bladder might be removed but this is rare.

Urinary diversion-

If the bladder is removed, then the doctor will need to come up with a new way for urine to pass out of the body. The most common method includes taking a small piece of the colon or small intestine and using it to move urine to an ostomy or stoma. The urine collects on the outside of the body via a bag that’s attached to the opening. From here, the patient drains the urine that’s collected.

The Importance of Viral-Based Therapy

cells that line the inside of the bladder

As you can tell by the aforementioned treatment options for bladder cancer, it’s incredibly important to find a less invasive method. This is why the results of the cold virus treatment look so promising; especially when you take into consideration all of the side effects, down time, and reduced quality of life associated with the current treatment factors. Only time will tell whether or not this will be a viable treatment option, but it does look promising.

Vimal Lalani is senior correspondent for Ishli, Medical and Wellness unit, reporting breaking news and health consumer reporting on

Written by Vimal Lalani

Vimal Lalani is senior correspondent for Ishli, Medical and Wellness unit, reporting breaking news and health consumer reporting on


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