Cancer Research UK has announced it will be conducting tests to determine if the Zika Virus can potentially be used to kill brain tumor cells. The research team, which is being led by Harry Bulstrode at the University of Cambridge, will conduct tests in vitro and in mice to determine whether the Zika virus could form the basis of a new treatment for glioblastoma, the most common form of brain cancer.
The Zika virus epidemic became a worldwide health concern following the discovery that the virus could cause birth defects. If infection occurs during pregnancy it can result in children being born with severe disabilities. Typically, the virus only causes flu-like symptoms in adults.
Research into the Zika virus has concentrated on discovering more about the virus with a view to developing new treatments for the disease. Research has shown that the Zika virus is capable of cross the blood-brain barrier and since it targets developing brain cells, which are similar to cancer cells, there is potential for the virus to be used as a novel treatment for glioblastoma.
Glioblastoma is a particularly aggressive form of cancer which is difficult to treat. Each year there are around 2,300 new diagnoses of the disease. There is less than a 5% survival rate after 5 years.
Current treatments for glioblastoma are limited as doses must be kept relatively low to avoid damaging healthy brain tissue while the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier is limited.
The researchers are testing how the virus targets stem cells with a view to using the virus to attack cancer cells without harming the surrounding, healthy brain tissue. Bulstrode said, “We hope to show that the Zika virus can slow down brain tumor growth in tests in the lab. 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.”