Health Care

Researchers test if Zika virus can be used to kill brain tumors

Researchers test if Zika virus can be used to kill brain tumors”

"It looks like there's a silver lining to Zika".

While Zika virus causes devastating damage to the brains of developing fetuses, it one day may be an effective treatment for glioblastoma, a deadly form of brain cancer.

Although neural progenitor cells are abundant in fetal brains, they are very limited in the adult brain, which makes the idea of injecting Zika into an adult patient's brain safer than it sounds on the surface.

The team of researchers from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, the Cleveland Clinic, the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, for their study introduced the Zika viruses in to tissue samples containing glioblastoma cells that were removed from cancer patients as part of their treatment.

Scientists used strains of Zika to target Glioblastoma cells, a "highly lethal brain cancer", and found the virus "potently depleted" cancer cells. Since Zika virus targets and kills neuro progenitor cells, they chose to see if it might also be able to target and kill glioblastoma stem cells. This may explain why the infection is so destructive for growing fetuses, as they have high numbers of stem cells in their developing brains.

"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", said study co-leader Michael Diamond, from Washington University School of Medicine, in St. Louis.

It's those cells that Zika can attack, researchers said.

Human trials are still a way off, but experts believe Zika virus could potentially be injected into the brain at the same time as surgery to remove life-threatening tumours, the Journal of Experimental Medicine reports. Glioblastoma stem cells are hard to kill because they can avoid the body's immune system and are resistant to chemotherapy and radiation.

In any case, most recent research demonstrates the virus can specifically contaminate and murder hard-to-treat carcinogenic cells in grown-up brains. The researchers behind the new study note that the cells normally remain in the central nervous system, and recurrence tends to occur near the original tumor.

The Zika treatment seems to chip away at human cell tests in the lab.

Next, the researchers tested the Zika therapy on mice with glioblastomas. Not only that, but the mice that received the Zika-inspired treatment lived longer than those treated with a placebo. They found that Zika virus-infected GSC models also triggered IFN signaling. "Once we add a few more changes, I think it's going to be impossible for the virus to overcome them and cause disease".

Funding for this research came, in part, from the National Institutes of Health (R01 AI073755, R01 AI104972, CA197718, CA154130, CA169117, CA171652, NS087913, NS089272), the Pardee Foundation, the Concern Foundation, the Cancer Research Foundation and the McDonnell Center for Cellular and Molecular Neurobiology of Washington University. But the results are promising enough that Diamond said he hopes to start trials on humans in less than two years.



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