Researchers in the united kingdom are set to test whether the Zika virus can combat difficult-to-treat brain cancer by attacking the cells, possibly opening new avenues for the treatment of the aggressive disease. The researchers will focus on glioblastoma, which is the most common form of brain cancer and has a five-year survival rate of 5 percent, Reuters reported.
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The Zika virus caused severe birth defects in an unborn fetus when contracted during pregnancy by an attack on the development of stem cells in the brain. However, the disease does not have the same devastating effect on the fully developed brain, which suggests that if scientists can benefit from the virus the opportunity to attack the cancer cells, which are similar to the development of the brain cells, healthy brain tissue will go unharmed.
“We take a different approach, and you want to use these new insights to see whether the virus can be unleashed against one of the most difficult to treat forms of cancer,” Harry Bulstrode, a lead researcher at the University of Cambridge, said in a statement to Reuters.
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Researchers use tumor cells in mice to test the virus, and hope that the slow growth of the tumor.
“If we can learn from the lessons Zika the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and target the brain of the cells selectively, we were able to hold the key to future treatments,” Bulstrode told Reuters.
Active outbreaks of the mosquito-borne illness were reported in at least 51 countries and areas, with pregnant women advised to avoid travel to so-called virus “hot spots.” In addition to congenital abnormalities, Zika is associated with neurological disorders, including the brain and spinal cord infections. Long-term health effects remain unclear.
Reuters contributed to this report.