Zika Virus Kills Brain Cancer Cells

A new study shows that a Zika virus can kill brain cancer stem cells.

REUTERS / Ma Qiang / Southern Metropolis DailyMale Aedes albopictus mosquitoes are seen in this picture. Zika virus is among the viruses spread by the species.

The Zika virus is known for killing brain cells of developing fetuses, in which infected babies will be born with tiny misshapen heads. New research proves that it can be used to counter a specific type of brain cancer cell, without gravely affecting normal adult brain tissue.

Researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, the Cleveland Clinic, and the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston found out that the Zika virus infection can potentially be used to treat glioblastoma, a malignant type of brain tumor, which has a very low survival rate.

"We showed that Zika virus can kill the kind of glioblastoma cells that tend to be resistant to current treatments and lead to death," said the study's co-senior author Michael S. Diamond, MD, Ph. D., the Herbert S. Gasser Professor of Medicine at Washington University School of Medicine.

The virus can be directed towards malignant cells, the kind which is usually resilient against standard treatments.

In the laboratory study, the researchers removed glioblastoma tissue samples from a cancer patient and introduced the Zika virus. They also did the same to healthy human neural tissue.

Seven days later, the researchers found that the virus replicated in certain glioblastoma cells and also prevented them from multiplying. As for the healthy tissue, they were not largely infected.

Researchers then conducted the experiment on mice using a mouse-adapted Zika strain. Results revealed that the mice which were exposed to the virus survived longer. Their tumors were also smaller in size compared to the control group.

This research serves as a stepping stone for finding a definite cure for brain cancer. It should open more opportunities for studies on genetic engineering for a safer and more effective Zika virus against brain cancer.

The findings have been published in The Journal of Experimental Medicine on Sept. 5.