The latest research developments using the Zika virus to treat glioblastoma

A team of researchers investigated the effect of the Zika virus on glioblastoma cells in mice, as well as in human brain tissue samples. They discovered that the virus infected and killed the cancerous cells

Glioblastoma is a highly lethal form of brain cancer and has a high rate of recurrence despite patients undergoing surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Glioblastomas affect 2,200 individuals in the UK annually making it essential to investigate various potential treatments.

One such potential treatment is in the form of the Zika virus. Although the presence of the virus is detrimental to the cell growth and development of an unborn baby, it is precisely this function than can be used to treat glioblastomas. Glioblastoma stem cells (GSCs) or tumour-initiating cells, are similar to the brain and nervous system cells of an unborn baby.

A team of researchers from various medical schools across the United States of America investigated the effect of the Zika virus on glioblastoma cells in mice, as well as human brain samples collected from people with glioblastoma.

The researchers observed that the virus preferentially targeted and killed GSCs relative to normal brain cells, which remained unaffected. The virus had the ability to infect and destroy the tumour cells, also known as having an 'oncolytic' effect. Thus, it seems that this function of the Zika virus can be harnessed to treat adults diagnosed with glioblastomas.

Although the findings of this study rest firmly in the experimental stage and require further rigorous testing, they present important implications for the potential treatments for individuals suffering from glioblastomas.

This line of investigation is similar to the work of Professor Susan Short, who in collaboration with The Brain Tumour Charity is investigating the manner in which a non-toxic virus only 'invades' and kills tumour cells.

Read the study here