Zika virus used to fight brain cancer

Published: 06 September 2017


In a ground-breaking study, scientists in the US have used the Zika virus to obliterate aggressive brain cancer cells.

Zika, which gives off flu-like symptoms, is linked to horrific birth defects including microcephaly, a condition where an infant’s head develops abnormally small with an underdeveloped brain.

But using a radical new approach, the virus now may have a “silver lining.”

Promising research published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine has shown the virus can target and kill brain cancer cells in living mice, while leaving surrounding tissue essentially unharmed.  Tests conducted on donated human brain cells have also showed similar results.

Scientists used strains of Zika to target Glioblastoma cells, a “highly lethal brain cancer,” and found the virus “potently depleted” cancer cells.

Mice suffering the cancer “survived substantially longer and at greater rates” when their tumours were treated with Zika.

Glioblastoma cancer cells grow rapidly and are notoriously hard to treat with conventional methods including surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

The Zika virus, which targets brain stem cells and causes damage in infants’ brains, has been shown to be effective targeting brain tumour-causing stem cells in adults’ brains.

Researchers hope human trials using the method can start within the next 18 months.