A virus feared for its effect on the brains of the unborn might hold a key to treating a deadly form of adult brain cancer.
The Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis on Tuesday said the Zika virus has shown it may be useful in attacking glioblastoma cancer cells.
The university collaborated with the University of San Diego School of Medicine in the research that shows the Zika virus kills brain cancer stem cells.
Zika attacks the brains of developing fetuses, leading to small and misshapen heads. The research indicates that ability can also be directed against cancer cells.
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“We showed that Zika virus can kill the kind of glioblastoma cells that tend to be resistant to current treatments and lead to death,” Michael S. Diamond at Washington University said in a release announcing the findings, which were published Tuesday in The Journal of Experimental Medicine.
Glioblastoma is the most common form of brain cancer, afflicting about 12,000 people a year, according to the university. U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona is one of them.
Glioblastomsa stem cells are often resistant to standard treatment. The study injected glioblastoma tumors with two strains of the Zika virus, and both were effective in killing the stem cells, stopping them from producing more cancer cells. The study suggests that using the virus in conjunction with chemotherapy and radiation has a complementary effect. Chemo and radiation alone leaves stem cells to produce more tumors.
“We see Zika one day being used in combination with current therapies to eradicate the whole tumor,” Milan D. Chheda of Washington University said in the announcement.
The study’s experiments were conducted on mice with tumors. The ones injected with Zika lived significantly longer than mice injected with a placebo.