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Zika – Helping the Fight Against Brain Cancer?

Posted by Britt R. on

By now, we all have heard about the Zika virus epidemic that spread rampantly throughout South and Central America in 2016. Transmitted primarily by mosquitoes and then through sexual contact, its side effects include a rash and severe birth defects of fetuses in pregnant women, such as microcephaly. However, the Zika virus might actually provide a benefit. On Tuesday, The Journal of Experimental Medicine published preliminary findings in which the Zika virus could be used as a targeted weapon in killing glioblastoma brain tumors. Zeeeek!

Glioblastoma is one of the most aggressive and lethal forms of brain cancer. The tumor stem cells are resistant to most treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy. Additionally, the tumor stem cells embed and grow amongst healthy brain tissue, making it very difficult to surgically remove these tumors. Therefore, doctors need to search for other unique treatments to combat glioblastoma.

Led by Dr. Michael Diamond and Dr. Milan Chheda from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, as well as Dr. Jeremy Rich from University of California School of Medicine in San Diego, the experiment yielded some promising results. Because Zika virus attacks stem cells, thus causing the microcephaly seen in babies due to the naturally high amount of stem cells in their brains, using the virus to fight glioblastoma stem cells became a viable opportunity. The research team conducted the trial using samples of human brain tissue. Unlike other experiments with the West Nile virus that attacked both cancerous stem cells and healthy neurons, the Zika virus seemed to only target the cancerous stem cells, not damaing the healthy cells. Researchers further experimented with this result using live mice, and found that the “virus decelerated tumor growth, improving the animals’ life expectancy,” according to Medical News Today.

Though the initial findings provide hope in the battle against glioblastoma, further testing on the side effects of the virus is needed before the proposed treatment can proceed to human clinical trials.

Sources:

Journal of Experimental Medicine: http://jem.rupress.org/content/early/2017/09/05/jem.20171093

Medical News Today: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319272.php

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