Anthrax Toxin: A Promising Method to Kill Bladder Cancer Cells

Researchers used an epidermal growth factor (EGF)-conjugated anthrax toxin that, after targeting EGFR, was internalized and triggered apoptosis in exposed bladder cancer cells.

A new study from researchers at Purdue University suggests a potential way to combine the anthrax toxin with a growth factor to kill bladder cancer cells and tumors. The research was published in the International Journal of Cancer.

Bladder cancer affects approximately 72,000 Americans each year and kills about 16,000. It is also among the most expensive cancers to treat. The current treatments for bladder cancer are invasive, as patients must often sit for hours at a time with a bladder full of an agent designed to kill cancer cells and tumors. Bladder cancer also has 1 of highest levels of reoccurence for patients with the disease.

Unlike mucin-shielded normal bladder cells, cancer cells are exposed to the bladder lumen and overexpress the EGFR gene. Therefore, researchers used an EGF-conjugated anthrax toxin that after targeting EGFR, was internalized and triggered apoptosis in exposed bladder cancer cells.

"We have effectively come up with a promising method to kill the cancer cells without harming the normal cells in the bladder," said R. Claudio Aguilar, an associate professor and the assistant head of biological sciences in Purdue's College of Science. "It is basically like creating a special solution that targets cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone."

The bladder has its own protective layer, which saves the good cells from the anthrax mixture but offers no protection for the cancer cells and tumors, according to the study authors. The system developed by Purdue works within minutes to target cancer cells in the bladder.

According to Aguilar, the treatment is fast and effective, both of which are critical for patients with bladder cancer. Aguilar and the research team tested their solution and found that this new agent decreased the tumor size without causing any adverse events.

This research provides the basis for a transformative anticancer strategy that takes advantage of the unique characteristics of the bladder, according to the study authors. The research team said that a similar treatment may help patients with other cancers, including those affecting the lungs or skin.


  • Anthrax may be the next tool in the fight against bladder cancer [press release]. Published November 12, 2019. Accessed November 19, 2019.
  • Jack S, Madhivanan K, Ramadesikan S, et al. A novel, safe, fast and efficient treatment for Her2‐positive and negative bladder cancer utilizing an EGF‐anthrax toxin chimera. Published October 4, 2019. Accessed November 19, 2019.

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