Zika virus might be a weapon against brain cancer

This baby in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, was born with microcephaly after her mother [photo: Science.com]
This baby in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, was born with microcephaly after her mother [photo: Science.com]

The devastating Zika virus could be used in the fight against brain cancer, a recent medical report said on Friday.

The report was published on Tuesday by researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch, who have been researching into the Zika virus for years, trying to figure out how the virus attacks the brain.

Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is thought to be the most dangerous form of brain cancer as most patients die within two years after diagnosis.

A recent victim of the cancer was the U.S. senator, John McCain, who died weeks ago.

According to the leader of the research group, Dr. Shi Peiyong, it is almost incurable because the tumors always grow back after surgery and chemotherapy.

Scientists found that a live-attenuated Zika vaccine with a weakened version of the virus could kill GBM stem cells without causing disease in humans.

“That’s because GBM stem cells have similar properties to neural stem cells, the target of Zika,’’ Dr. Shi explained.

Research has shown that the Zika vaccine could prolong the lives of mice with human GBM without damaging the brain or altering their behaviour.

“However, that is far from enough, we still need to further improve the specificity of the cancer-killing ability, while retaining the safety of the vaccine strain.

“For example, we need to make sure that the therapeutic vaccine virus does not infect and kill normal neurons in humans,’’ Dr. Shi explained.

Zika has not been considered as a severe problem until a massive outbreak in 2015.

Apart from flu-like symptoms, Zika could also cause birth defects including blindness, deformed limbs and microcephaly in children from infected mothers during pregnancy. (Xinhua/NAN)

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