Dogs with terminal bladder cancer improved with a new modified anthrax treatment. pyotr021 / iStock / Getty Images Plus
By R. Claudio Aguilar
Can the feared anthrax toxin become an ally in the war against cancer? Successful treatment of pet dogs suffering bladder cancer with an anthrax-related treatment suggests so.
Anthrax is a disease caused a by bacterium, known as Bacillus anthracis, which releases a toxin that causes the skin to break down and forms ulcers, and triggers pneumonia and muscle and chest pain. To add to its sinister resumé, and underscore its lethal effects, this toxin has been infamously used as a bioweapon.
I am a biochemist and cell biologist who has been working on research and development of novel therapeutic approaches against cancer and genetic diseases for more than 20 years. Our lab has investigated, designed and adapted agents to fight disease; this is our latest exciting story.
Among all cancers, the one affecting the bladder is the sixth most common and in 2019 caused more than 17,000 deaths in the U.S. Of all patients that receive surgery to remove this cancer, about 70% will return to the physician's office with more tumors. This is psychologically devastating for the patient and makes the cancer of the bladder one of the most expensive to treat.
To make things worse, currently there is a worldwide shortage of Bacillus Calmette-Guerin, a bacterium used to make the preferred immunotherapy for decreasing bladder cancer recurrence after surgery. This situation has left doctors struggling to meet the needs of their patients. Therefore, there is a clear need for more effective strategies to treat bladder cancer.
Anthrax Comes to the Rescue
Years ago scientists in the Collier lab modified the anthrax toxin by physically linking it to a naturally occurring protein called the epidermal growth factor (EGF) that binds to the EGF receptor, which is abundant on the surface of bladder cancer cells. When the EGF protein binds to the receptor – like a key fits a lock – it causes the cell to engulf the EGF-anthrax toxin, which then induces the cancer cell to commit suicide (a process called apoptosis), while leaving healthy cells alone.
In collaboration with colleagues at Indiana University medical school, Harvard University and MIT, we designed a strategy to eliminate tumors using this modified toxin. Together we demonstrated that this novel approach allowed us to eliminate tumor cells taken from human, dog and mouse bladder cancer.
This highlights the potential of this agent to provide an efficient and fast alternative to the current treatments (which can take between two and three hours to administer over a period of months). I also think it is good news is that the modified anthrax toxin spared normal cells. This suggests that this treatment could have fewer side effects.
Helping Our Best Friends
These encouraging results led my lab to join forces with Dr. Knapp's group at the Purdue veterinary hospital to treat pet dogs suffering from bladder cancer.
Canine patients for whom all available conventional anti-cancer therapeutics were unsuccessful were considered eligible for these tests. Only after standard tests proved the agent to be safe in laboratory animals, and with the consent of their owners, six eligible dogs with terminal bladder cancer were treated with the anthrax toxin-derived agent.
Two to five doses of this medicine, delivered directly inside the bladder via a catheter, was enough to shrink the tumor by an average of 30%. We consider these results impressive given the initial large size of the tumor and its resistance to other treatments.
There Is Hope for All
Our collaborators at Indiana University Hospital surgically removed bladder cells from human patients and sent them to my lab for testing the agent. At Purdue my team found these cells to be very sensitive to the anthrax toxin-derived agent as well. These results suggest that this novel anti-bladder cancer strategy could be effective in human patients.
The treatment strategy that we have devised is still experimental. Therefore, it is not available for treatment of human patients yet. Nevertheless, my team is actively seeking the needed economic support and required approvals to move this therapeutic approach into human clinical trials. Plans to develop a new, even better generation of agents and to expand their application to the fight against other cancers are ongoing.
R. Claudio Aguilar is an associate professor of biological sciences at Purdue University.
Disclosure statement: R. Claudio Aguilar received funding from National Institutes of Health.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
Officials in the Yamalo-Nenets region in Siberia are proposing the culling of a quarter-million reindeer by Christmas in order to minimize the possible spread of anthrax, the Siberian Times reported.
Theso-called "zombie" anthrax outbreak in Siberia has been blamed on a thawed-out infected reindeer corpse that died several decades ago.Flickr
The deadly problem began over the summer, as record-high temperatures as warm as 95 degrees Fahrenheit thawed out an anthrax-infected reindeer buried in permafrost about 70 years ago. The outbreak killed a 12-year-old boy, claimed the lives of about 2,300 reindeer and four dogs and sickened about 100 people. It was the first time anthrax struck the region since 1941.
According to the Siberian Times, the proposal to kill 250,000 reindeer is dramatically higher than the number of animals that are annually culled in November and December.
To incentivize the nomadic herders to give up their herds, officials suggested a reward of an affordable mortgage to buy an apartment instead of a cash compensation.
An estimated 730,000 reindeer currently live in the Yamalo-Nenets region, an amount that Nikolai Vlasov, deputy head of Russia's Federal Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance Service, said was already "too high."
"The more dense the animal population is, the worse the disease transfer medium (and) the more often animals get sick," the Russian federal veterinary official said. "Density of livestock, especially in the tundra areas that are very fragile, should be regulated ... Otherwise, they will kill the pastures and later will destroy the indigenous minorities of the north who will have nothing to live on. It is impossible to breed reindeer without limits."
Critics, however, say the proposal to kill 250,000 reindeer would negatively impact the livelihoods of the nomadic Nenets, the indigenous reindeer-herding population who have called the region home for more than a thousand years.
"A huge number of nomads on the Yamal and Gydan peninsulas will lose their means of existence and opportunities to maintain their traditional way of life," anthropologist Olga Murashko told the Siberian Times. "Additionally, it is clear that within the short time frame given, the indigenous reindeer herders cannot be properly consulted on the administration's plans to annihilate a large number of reindeer."
'Beware of action that would put tundra nomadism at risk in Yamal' - expert on culling as many as 250,000 reindeers… https://t.co/apRJUU6GA9— The Siberian Times (@The Siberian Times)1474696517.0
As Survival International described:
"For the Nenets who are still nomadic, their lands and reindeer herds remain vitally important to their collective identity. Land is everything to us. Everything," said Sergei Hudi.
"The reindeer is our home, our food, our warmth and our transportation," Sergei Hudi told Survival.
Alexei Kokorin, head of the World Wildlife Fund Russia's climate and energy program, said the temperatures and the outbreak are connected to climate change.
Anthrax Outbreak Linked to Climate Change, Kills 12-Year-Old Boy, 71 Nomadic Herders Hospitalized https://t.co/7wRTe24bzd @climatecouncil— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1470173109.0
"Such anomalous heat is rare for Yamal, and that's probably a manifestation of climate change," he told The Guardian in August.
The World Meteorological Organization warned last month that the Arctic's rapidly changing temperatures could affect the weather worldwide:
"Dramatic and unprecedented warming in the Arctic is driving sea level rise, affecting weather patterns around the world and may trigger even more changes in the climate system.
"The rate of change is challenging the current scientific capacity to monitor and predict what is becoming a journey into uncharted territory."
Arctic Melting Defies Scientists https://t.co/FHBHinL5qD @foeeurope @Green_Europe— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1475495423.0
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
An anthrax outbreak in Siberia triggered by unusually warm temperatures has claimed the life of a 12-year-old boy and hospitalized 71 other nomadic herders.
Igor Zarembo / Sputnik
Alexei Kokorin, head of the WWF Russia's climate and energy program, said the temperatures and the outbreak are connected to climate change. Record heat in recent weeks exposed anthrax-infected reindeer that were buried in permafrost about 70 years ago, officials said.
Anthrax bacteria can lie dormant for decades. So far, 2,300 reindeer have died and 4,500 others have been vaccinated. This outbreak is the first such in the region since 1941.
Urgent evacuation of reindeer herders from #anthrax outbreak zone, Yamalo-Nenets #Arctic https://t.co/q4nsnwoEu5 https://t.co/4XhQl3F9Nu— The Barents Observer (@The Barents Observer)1469606822.0
For a deeper dive:
Commentary: ABC Australia, Hilary Bambrick op-ed