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Can Zika virus kill brain cancer? New study suggests it may be a promising treatment

Can Zika virus kill brain cancer? New study suggests it may be a promising treatment
From Global News - September 6, 2017

Its been tied to birth defects and brain abnormalities in babies, but could the notorious Zika virus lend a hand in fighting brain cancer?

New U.S. research suggests that Zika, the mosquito-borne virus that hit Brazil and parts of South America, could be used in a combination therapy to kill brain cancer.

It worked in stem cells, at least, according to scientists out of Washington Universitys School of Medicine. They injected the virus in stem cells from tumours found in brain cancer patients. They say Zika killed some of the cancer.

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We showed that Zika virus can kill the kind of glioblastoma cells that tend to be resistant to current treatments and lead to death, Dr. Michael Diamond, the studys co-author, said in a university statement.

We see Zika one day being used in combination with current therapies to eradicate the whole tumour, Dr. Milan Chheda, the studys co-author, said.

Like dengue, West Nile and yellow fever, Zika virus is a mosquito-borne tropical disease, meaning mosquitoes transmit the disease to humans.

So far, its been linked to a 20-fold increase in microcephaly, in which newborns have irregularly small heads and underdeveloped brains.

Zika has also been tied to eye defects, hearing impairment and stunted growth.

READ MORE: Tragic images show Zika virus path of destruction on unborn babies brains

Its relatively harmless in adults, though, presenting with mild, flu-like symptoms in most people. Patients often encounter a headache, followed by a rash, lethargy and runny, red eyes as common symptoms.

But the scientists note it could be a lethal power that, when harnessed strategically, could fight malignant cells, specifically in the brain.

For their study, Diamond and Chheda zeroed in on glioblastoma, a brain cancer thats often fatal within a year of being diagnosed. U.S. Sen. John McCain told the world he was diagnosed with glioblastoma in July.

In conventional treatment, brain cancer patients undergo surgery, followed up with chemotherapy and radiation. Its an aggressive process but even then tumours typically end up recurring within six months.

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The scientists say its because of a small population of cellsglioblastoma stem cellsthat survive the treatment and continue to produce new tumour cells to replace the ones killed by radiation, chemo and surgery.

This time around, the scientists removed these glioblastoma stem cells from patients at diagnosis.

They infected the tumours with one of two strains of Zika virus. Turns out, both strains seeped into the tumours, infected them and killed the cancer stem cells.

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