Over the last two years, Zika has been perceived only as a major, worldwide threat. Now, doctors are viewing the disease as a remedy for brain cancer, because new research has shown it could shrink tumors.
Scientists from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the University of California San Diego School of Medicine conducted a study to determine how the virus might be used to treat glioblastoma, a brain cancer that is often fatal within a year of diagnosis.
To do so, they injected Zika into 18 fully grown mice, targeting only neural progenitor cells, which are known to reproduce cells associated with gliobastoma. They injected the remaining 15 mice with a saltwater placebo.
After two weeks, they found that tumors in the Zika-treated mice were significantly smaller than those in the saltwater-treated mice.
The scientists were also able to test their experiment on human cell samples. The examination yielded the same results, and they discovered the dosages did not affect noncancerous cells.
“We showed that Zika virus can kill the kind of glioblastoma cells that tend to be resistant to current treatments and lead to death,” co-author Michael S. Diamond said in a press release.
“We see Zika one day being used in combination with current therapies to eradicate the whole tumor,” co-author Milan G. Chheda added.
But researchers believe the key is placing Zika only on the malignant, neural progenitor cells, which are rare among adults. If the vaccine happens to spread, researchers postulate the person’s immune system would sweep it away before it could negatively affect other parts of the body.
On the other hand, these type of cells are more present in the fetal brain, which is why Zika is so damaging before birth and adults affected have much milder symptoms.
Despite their findings, which were recently published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, scientists did note more research is needed before treating humans.
“We’re going to introduce additional mutations to sensitize the virus even more to the innate immune response and prevent the infection from spreading,” Diamond said. “Once we add a few more changes, I think it’s going to be impossible for the virus to overcome them and cause disease.”