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

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

The Zika virus can kill off aggressive brain cancer, a new study claims.

Researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the University of California San Diego School of Medicine set out to discover whether the Zika virus could specifically target and kill these cancerous stem cells while leaving noncancerous brain cells alone.

Most research efforts aimed at Zika virus seek to kill the pathogen, which is known to cause brain defects in fetuses. The research indicates that ability can also be directed against cancer cells.

The study from Washington University looked at how the mosquito-borne infection is able to kill off the cells that cause this glioblastoma - the most common high grade primary brain tumour in adults - and resists all current treatments.

This year, more than 12,000 Americans will be diagnosed with glioblastomas, according to the American Brain Tumor Association. They are also the most hard to treat. Patients have surgery and chemotherapy but this only kills the bulk of the tumour and often leaves the stem cells intact.

The scientists found that the Zika virus can preferentially infect and kill glioblastoma stem cells which proliferate and give rise to more tumour cells, driving the growth of the tumour.

This suggested to the researchers that a treatment combining standard chemotherapy with Zika infection had complementary effects.

It is thought that these glioblastoma stem cells continue to grow and divide, producing new tumour cells even after aggressive medical treatment.

"We see Zika one day being used in combination with current therapies to eradicate the whole tumor", Washington University School of Medicine assistant professor of medicine and of neurology Milan G. Chheda, MD said in a press release. According to the researchers, this experiment has only been performed in fully grown mice.

Mice are not natural hosts for Zika virus, so to progress their studies into an in vivo model, the researchers had to develop a mouse-adapted strain of Zika virus.

The treatment would take place in addition to the traditional surgery and chemotherapy, with Zika injected into the brain during surgery. The former targets stem cells but leaves the rest of the tumor, however, the latter kills the tumor cells and can miss the stem cells. All of the untreated mice died after 30 days in both tumor models (15 mice in one case, 7 mice in the other), but those receiving injections seemed to last days, and in some cases weeks, longer.

Human trials are as yet a way off, yet specialists trust Zika Virus could conceivably be infused into the cerebrum in the meantime as surgery to evacuate perilous tumors, the Journal of Experimental Medicine reports. But the virus doesn't have such devastating effects on adult brains, the researchers explained. Rich stated. Oncolytic viruses have previously been used to treat patients, and there have been some promising results, "but we hope to add to the arms race against this cancer...as a neuro-oncologist, I want to put myself out of business", he told GEN. Then they tried an "attenuated" strain of the virus that was less potent.