While Zika virus is known to cause devastating damage to the brains of developing foetuses, it might one day help in the treatment against a deadly form of brain cancer, researchers claim.
The findings showed that Zika virus kills stem cells — the kind of cells most resistant to standard treatments of glioblastoma, which is the most aggressive cancer that begins within the brain.
According to researchers, the lethal power of the Zika virus — known for infecting and killing cells in the brains of foetuses, causing babies to be born with tiny, misshapen heads — could be directed at malignant cells in the brain.
While the standard treatment kills the bulk of the tumour cells, it often leaves the stem cells intact to regenerate the tumour. Zika virus attacks the stem cells but bypasses the greater part of the tumour.
“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 Michael S. Diamond, Professor at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
The study, published in The Journal of Experimental Medicine, also suggest that Zika infection and chemotherapy-radiation treatment have complementary effects.
“We see Zika one day being used in combination with current therapies to eradicate the whole tumour,” added Milan G. Chheda, Assistant Professor at the varsity.
For the study, the team injected Zika virus or saltwater (a placebo) directly into the brain tumours of two groups of mice.
Tumours were found to be significantly smaller in the Zika-treated mice two weeks after injection, and those mice survived significantly longer than the ones given saltwater.
If Zika were used in people, it would have to be injected into the brain, most likely during surgery to remove the primary tumour.
If introduced through another part of the body, the person’s immune system would sweep it away before it could reach the brain, the researchers explained.