That leads scientists to believe that the Zika virus can function as a complementary treatment for glioblastoma.
The Zika virus is considered riskiest for pregnant women, since it can infect developing fetuses and kill cells in their brains, causing a birth defect called microcephaly—a condition where the baby’s head is much smaller than expected.
But it turns out, the power of the Zika virus may be directed at a type of brain tumor called glioblastoma, a cancer which often causes death within a year of diagnosis. When scientists tested two strains of the Zika virus on glioblastoma stem cells—which produce new cancer cells and are generally resistant to standard cancer treatments—they discovered that Zika killed those particular types of cells while leaving other tumor cells intact.
That leads scientists to believe that the Zika virus can function as a complementary treatment for glioblastoma. Standard chemotherapy and radiation generally wipes out the bulk of cancer cells, but the glioblastoma stem cells usually remain unscathed—eventually allowing the tumor to redevelop. Since the Zika virus kills the glioblastoma stem cells, it may be able to be used in conjunction with standard treatment to give the cancer a one-two punch.
“We see Zika one day being used in combination with current therapies to eradicate the whole tumor,” study author Milan G. Chheda, M.D., said in a statement.
When the researchers tested the treatment on living mice with brain tumors, they discovered that those injected with the Zika virus showed tumor shrinkage after two weeks, and lived longer than those given a placebo shot, too.
Injecting a virus known to cause brain defects into the brain sounds crazy, but researchers believe it will be safer in adults since their brain lacks the primarily types of cells Zika likes to target.
Still, scientists are investigating whether they can genetically modify the Zika virus to be even safer, with the hopes they can use that strain to test in humans with brain cancer, New Scientist reports.