The Zika virus can kill aggressive brain tumor cells, researchers at Washington University have found.
The scientists engineered the Zika virus to be better controlled by the immune system if it attacked healthy cells, then tested it on glioblastoma cells that were removed from patients’ brains, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. The virus killed the cells, which often grow back after chemotherapy and radiation.
Researchers also tested the virus on mice and found that tumors shrank and mice lived longer than with a placebo, the Post-Dispatch reported. Further trials are planned, with clinical trials for humans to follow if successful.
Zika is a mosquito-borne and sexually transmitted virus that can cause severe damage to the brains of unborn babies of women who contract it.
Scientists theorized glioblastoma cells develop and grow in the same rapid way as fetal brain cells, so the virus might be able to target them and kill them. The virus rarely caused problems in healthy cells, scientists found, which may explain why most adults who contract it don’t have any problems.
Zika has caused birth defects in thousands of children since it was discovered in South America three years ago. Infants exposed to Zika in utero develop microcephaly, which involves an abnormally small head and underdeveloped brain.
According to Newsweek, it is possible the Zika virus also could kill other types of cancer stem cells, which have been shown to be treatment-resistant in many cases.
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