Zika virus could fight brain cancer

Could Zika Virus Be Developed to Treat Glioblastoma?

Two weeks after the virus was injected directly into the brain tumors of mice, the tumors were found to be significantly reduced.

The scientists note that the idea of injecting a virus notorious for causing brain damage into patient's brains seems alarming, but they say Zika may prove a safe therapy with further testing because its primary target - neuroprogenitor cells - are rare in adult brains. The biggest challenge faced by scientists in the field has been finding ways to manipulate the viruses into a state that makes them safe to use in a clinical environment, but retains their effectiveness as a cancer-killing agent.

The virus could lead to an effective treatment for glioblastoma, a fatal type of brain cancer, researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the University of California San Diego School of Medicine said Tuesday. Glioblastomas are the most widely recognized in grown-ups and one of the trickiest to treat.

The researchers conducted additional studies of the virus using brain tissue from epilepsy patients and showed that the virus does not infect noncancerous brain 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. Zhe Zhu, a postdoctoral fellow in Jeremy Rich's laboratory, reasoned that since Zika can target these neuroprogenitor cells, it might also target cancer stem cells, which share similarities to these cells.

"We take a virus, learn how it works and then we leverage it", microbiologist Dr. Michael Diamond said of the study, according to the paper.

The study, published in The Journal of Experimental Medicine, tested whether the virus could be used to kill stem cells in glioblastomas removed from patients. It is assumed that these glioblastoma stem cells keep on growing and dividing on their own, creating new tumor cells even after forceful therapeutic treatment.

Among the many different kinds of brain cancer, glioblastomas are the most common in adults, and the most hard to treat. That prompted them to look for a local therapy they can use to target specific cells-like the Zika virus. As a outcome, women infected with Zika virus during pregnancy are at increased risk of giving birth to children with neurological problems. Not only that, but the mice that received the Zika-inspired treatment lived longer than those treated with a placebo. This is because the virus specifically targets and kills specialised stem cells in a developing brain.

"Pregnant women are more susceptible to the Zika virus because pregnancy naturally suppresses a woman's immune system so her body doesn't reject the fetus-essentially it's a foreign object", Dr. Jung explained. They infected cultured tumors with one of two strains of the virus. 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.

Bulstrode said: "This study is very exciting". Human trials could begin in 18 months' time he said.