Researchers believe that the Zika virus could be used to kill off cancer cells in the brain – focus on glioblastoma
Even though the Zika virus is knows to cause birth defects to unborn children, there appears to be a way to use it in an effective way to kill cancer cells in the brain. Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the University of California, San Diego studied the event and tested strains of the Zika virus on tumor cells to see what happens.
“We hypothesized that the preference of Zika virus for neural precursor cells could be leveraged against glioblastoma stem cells,” said study co-director, Michael Diamond, according to a news release.
Unfortunately, the big majority of those who suffer from glioblastoma die within two years of diagnosis, while the treatment usually involves surgery followed by aggressive approaches. The aim of the treatment is to target glioblastoma stem cells in order to prevent the tumor from growing back; however, not all patients respond to chemotherapy and radiation.
“It is so frustrating to treat a patient as aggressively as we know how, only to see his or her tumor recur a few months later,” said Milan Chheda, of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, according to the news release. “We wondered whether nature could provide a weapon to target the cells most likely responsibly for this return.”
In the latest report, researchers found that the virus infected and killed patient-derived glioblastoma stem cells, in comparison to other glioblastoma cell types or normal neural cells. In mice, the virus significantly slowed down the development of tumor cells, and extended the animals’ lifespan. Testing a mutant strain of the virus, tailored to be more sensitive to the body’s immune response, researchers discovered that, when combined with a chemotherapy drug, the virus was able to target and kill glioblastoma stem cells more effectively.
“Our study is a first step towards the development of safe and effective strains of Zika virus that could become important tools in neuro-oncology and the treatment of glioblastoma,” Diamond said, according to the news release. “However, public health concerns will need to be addressed through pre-clinical testing and evaluations of the strains’ ability to disseminate or revert to more virulent forms.”