Authors: Martha Powell, Future Science Group
Zika could be used to treat glioblastoma, a fatal and aggressive form of brain cancer, according to new research. A study from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis (MO, USA) and the University of California San Diego (CA, USA) has demonstrated that the virus selectively targets and kills brain cancer stem cells.
The findings, published recently in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, suggest that Zika virus could be directed towards malignant brain cells, enhancing an individual’s chances against glioblastoma, which is often fatal within a year of diagnosis.
Building on the knowledge that Zika virus targets neuroprogenitor cells in the growing brains of fetuses, the team hypothesized that the virus may also target cancerous stem cells. To assess this, the researchers infected tumors with one of two strains of Zika, discovering that both strains spread through the tumors and targeted the cancer stem cells in a fairly specific manner.
These results suggest that Zika virus may present a complimentary therapy to the standard-of-care chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Currently-used treatments remove the bulk of tumor cells but often miss the stem cells, whereas Zika virus appears to specifically target these.
In addition, the team tested the abilities of Zika in a mouse model, comparing the virus with a placebo in the brain tumors of 18 and 15 mice, respectively. They discovered that tumors in the treated mice were significantly smaller than in those given only a placebo, moreover, the Zika-treated mice survived longer.
The team also investigated mutating the virus to attenuate its infective abilities in healthy cells, which could act as a ‘safety measure’. In in vitro glioblastoma cells, the researchers observed that both the original and mutated strain succeeded in killing cancerous cells.
Author, Michael S. Diamond (Washington University School of Medicine), commented: “We showed that Zika virus can kill the kind of glioblastoma cells that tend to be resistant to current treatments and lead to death,”
“We’re going to introduce additional mutations to sensitize the virus even more to the innate immune response and prevent the infection from spreading. Once we add a few more changes, I think it’s going to be impossible for the virus to overcome them and cause disease.”