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Zika virus can possibly fight brain cancer in adults

The worst medical emergency of 2016 has turned out to be an effective cure for brain cancer in mice, leading to exciting possibilities for humans.

If anything qualifies as the worst health story of 2016, it would be the Zika virus. With its devastating effect on infants and the emergency declared by WHO, no one needs to be told how badly the virus affected the world. But as new research indicates, the virus could be a key in fighting brain cancer in adult humans.

The results

Researchers from UC San Diego and Washington University in St. Louis injected the cancer cells in brains of mice with the virus and observed a significantly slower tumor growth as well as extended lifespans. On top of that, combining the Zika treatment with chemotherapy gave even better results.

The particular strain we are talking about here is glioblastoma, the most common form of brain cancer and one of the most harmful due to its resistance to chemotherapy and radiation. As the research points out, ‘Despite surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, glioblastomas remain lethal, with a median survival below two years’.

Countries where people have gotten Zika virus (as of January 2016)
Countries where people have gotten Zika virus (as of January 2016)

While the main impact of the Zika virus is on kids, with babies being born with small heads and underdeveloped brains, for adults its impact is less severe. This is due to the fact that adult brain cells comprise of much fewer stem cells as compared to infants – with stem cells mainly being the target of the virus. During the research, all of the untreated mice died after 30 days in both tumor models (15 mice in one case, 7 mice in the other), but those receiving the Zika injections seemed to last days, or even weeks, longer.

The future

“Our study is a first step towards the development of safe and effective strains of Zika virus that could become important tools in neuro-oncology and the treatment of glioblastoma,” said study co-director Michael Diamond of Washington University in a press release. “However, public health concerns will need to be addressed through pre-clinical testing and evaluations of the strains’ ability to disseminate or revert to more virulent forms.”

As of now, it is too early to decide if this is a definitive outcome that is going to lead to successful human trials as well. On the other hand, this is just the first step and the researchers have indicated a desire to develop a safe strain of the Zika virus to go ahead with human trial sometime next year.


Arnab Mukherjee

Arnab Mukherjee

A former tech-support desk jockey, you can find this individual delving deep into all things tech, fiction and food. Calling his sense of humour merely terrible would be a much better joke than what he usually makes.