Researchers will test the possibility of using the Zika virus as a weapon to target and destroy brain tumour cells, which might lead to new cancer treatments, Cancer Research UK announced on Friday. The project, funded by Cancer Research UK, will be carried out by a team led by Harry Bulstrode at the University of Cambridge, Xinhua reported.
The team will use tumour cells in the lab and in mice to test the effect of the Zika virus on glioblastoma, the most common and aggressive form of brain tumour. Zika virus infection in pregnancy causes severe disability in babies by attacking stem cells in the developing brain. But since the brain of an adult is fully developed, Zika usually causes no more than mild flu-like symptoms, according to Cancer Research UK.
The Zika virus is believed to be able to cross the blood-brain barrier, and could target cancer cells, sparing normal adult brain tissue and potentially opening up a new way to attack the disease. “Zika virus infection in babies and children is a major global health concern, and the focus has been to discover more about the virus to find new possible treatments,” said Bulstrode.
“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,” Bulstrode also said. For this early stage research, the team plans to explore how the virus targets stem cells and provide the starting point to develop new treatments that seek out the tumour and spare the surrounding healthy brain tissue.
“Bulstrode’s research is an incredibly innovative way to expand our understanding of how we can beat this disease, which remains a notorious challenge,” said Iain Foulkes, director of research and innovation at Cancer Research UK.