Scientists funded by Cancer Research UK will investigate the effectiveness of the Zika virus in destroying brain tumour cells, which could lead to new treatments for cancer.
Under the initiative, Dr Harry Bulstrode at the University of Cambridge has received a Cancer Research UK Pioneer Award of £200,000 to test the effect of the Zika virus on glioblastoma, one of the most common and aggressive forms of brain tumours.
The research will find out if the virus is capable of destroying the brain tumour cells.
Cancer Research UK research and innovation director Dr Iain Foulkes said: “We urgently need new insights and treatments to tackle glioblastomas, one of the most common and difficult to treat forms of brain tumours.
“Finding new ways to treat brain tumours to help more people survive the disease is a priority for Cancer Research UK.
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“Dr Bulstrode’s research is an incredibly innovative way to expand our understanding of how we can beat this disease, which remains a notorious challenge.
“This research is exactly the sort of project we want to spark through Cancer Research UK’s Pioneer Awards.
“These bold research projects push the edge of our thinking and define entirely new approaches that could be tomorrow’s breakthrough.”
Every year, about 2,300 people are diagnosed with glioblastoma in England, less than 5% of which survive for five years or more.
The available treatments have very limited effectiveness due to the blood-brain barrier, a semi-permeable membrane which separates the circulating blood from the brain.
The dosage of these treatments should also be kept low to prevent damage to the healthy tissues.
The Zika virus can pass through this blood-brain barrier and target the cancer cells without affecting the healthy tissues.
The virus causes only mild flu-like symptoms in adults, which is known to cause severe disability in babies by affecting brain stem cells.
The cancer cells in glioblastoma exhibit similarity with the brain stem cells, which provides the base of this research.
Cancer Research UK Pioneer Award is given to individuals or teams with innovative ideas that can lead to developing groundbreaking treatments for cancer.
Image: Scientists to test Zika virus on brain tumours. Photo: courtesy of Cancer Research UK.