The Zika Virus Could Help Us Fight Brain Cancer

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A potentially dangerous disease, the Zika virus has enjoyed a large coverage in the media, especially due to its effect on unborn children, being responsible for many cases of microcephaly, a severe birth defect of the head. However, a recent study conducted by scientists at the University of Texas Medical Branch and published in MBio on Tuesday, focuses on the way this viral disease could be used to fight the deadliest of all types of brain cancer, called glioblastoma multiforme (GBM).

Incurable form of brain cancer

GBM is regarded as the type of brain cancer with the highest mortality rate, killing more than 95% of patients within 5 years since the initial diagnosis. Unfortunately, it is impossible to cure it, as the tumors always regrow after surgery and chemotherapy. The scientists do have hope, however, because GBM seemed to target one specific kind of stem cell, glioma stem cells. Since these cells closely resemble those that the Zika virus attacks in the fetus, they try to use this fact to re-program Zika to kill glioma stem cells, causing the death of brain tumors.

Zika as a tool in the fight against GBM

The leader of the study, geneticist Pei-Yong Shi and his team are currently working on developing a special strain of Zika that would attack only stem cells that GBM uses, while being completely harmless for humans. In their earlier experiments, they used a typical strain of Zika, which seemed to prolong the lives of mice with GBM. This encouraged them to continue works on creating neutered strains of Zika.

One of the modified versions of Zika was found to be effective in fighting GBM in mice with no working immune system. Not only did the virus not cause any damage to the mice’s brains but it also killed off stem cells, effectively prolonging the rodents’ lives.

At the moment, the study seems to be going in the right direction and we should be able to fight the deadliest type of brain cancer with the help of the Zika virus in the future.


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