Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB) in the US have used a Zika vaccine, currently in the development phase, to treat a deadly brain cancer called glioblastoma.
Zika virus can cause microcephaly, a disorder that hinders normal development of foetal brain when mother is infected. On the contrary, glioblastoma multiplies brain cells into cancerous tumours.
When tested in mice, the altered Zika vaccine demonstrated the ability to effectively target and kill the cancerous brain cells. The researchers further observed that the vaccine does not affect healthy cells.
UTMB biochemistry and molecular biology department professor Pei-Yong Shi said: “These findings represent major progress toward developing the Zika vaccine as a safe and effective virotherapeutic treatment for human glioblastoma.”
Commonly treated with surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, brain cancer has a high recurrence rate and an average survival of less than two years.
The return of a tumour is thought to be due to cancerous glioblastoma stem cells hiding in brain tissue even after surgery, while microcephaly likely develops as the Zika virus targets stem cells in the foetal brain.
During the UTMB study, the researchers assessed the safety and effectiveness of their recently developed potential Zika virus vaccine in mice that were given human glioblastoma tumours.
The objective of the study was to investigate whether the virus would infect and kill the glioblastoma stem cells without destroying normal cells.
It was observed that the vaccine did not lead to any neurological symptoms or behavioural abnormalities, while significantly decreasing tumour growth and extending survival.
Shi added: “We will continue to improve the therapeutic potential of this platform by increasing the safety and increasing the specific cancer-killing activity. It is exciting to turn the ‘bad’ side of the virus into cancer treatment.”