CAMBRIDGE, England, Thursday May 25, 2017 – New research in England could show that even the dark cloud cast by the Zika virus has a silver lining, as scientists gear up to test whether the virus can fight hard-to-treat brain cancer by attacking its cells, potentially opening up new pathways to treat the aggressive disease.
The scientists will focus on glioblastoma, the most common form of brain cancer, which has a dismal five-year survival rate of only five percent.
Zika, arguably the most devastating of all mosquito-borne diseases, causes severe birth defects in an unborn foetus when contracted during pregnancy by attacking developing stem cells in the brain.
The disease does not have the same catastrophic effect on fully developed brains, however, suggesting that if scientists can harness the virus’ ability to attack the cancer cells, which are similar to developing brain stem cells, healthy brain tissue will survive unharmed.
Harry Bulstrode, a lead researcher at Cambridge University, said in a statement: “We’re taking a different approach, and want to use these new insights to see if the virus can be unleashed against one of the hardest-to-treat cancers.
“If we can learn lessons from Zika’s ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and target brain stem cells selectively, we could be holding the key to future treatments,” he indicated.
The scientists will use tumour cells in mice to test the virus, which they hope will slow tumour growth.
Outbreaks of the virus have been reported in at least 51 countries and territories, with pregnant women advised to avoid travel to so-called “Zika hotbeds.”
In addition to such birth defects as microcephaly, in which babies are born with abnormally small heads and brains, the virus has been associated with neurological disorders including brain and spinal cord infections.