- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Researchers have found that the Zika virus stopped the growth of cancerous cells in human brain tissue.

According to research published Tuesday in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, glioblastoma multiforme cancer cells extracted from human brain tissue stopped dividing and multiplying after researchers injected the Zika virus into them.

What’s more, the virus showed few adverse effects when researchers injected it into normal, healthy brain tissue extracted from humans.

Glioblastoma multiforme is an incurable, aggressive and deadly type of brain tumor. Highly malignant, the tumors come from normal brain cells, which makes it easy for the cancer to invade and live in normal brain tissue, according to the American Brain Cancer Association.

The Zika virus has mild to severe negative health effects on individuals and unborn children. It is contracted by the bite of an infected mosquito and can spread between humans through intercourse.

What makes Zika deadly in a fetus is what can make it useful in targeting cancer cells, the researchers wrote: When Zika is present in a fetus, it kills brain cells and keeps others from dividing — resulting in devastating birth defects like underdevelopment of the brain and microcephaly, in which the skull partially collapses.

The researchers also tested mice with glioblastomas, injecting the tumors in their brains with a “mouse-adapted strain of [the Zika virus],” according to a statement released by the National Institutes of Health, which in part funded the study.

“Our results suggest that ZIKV [Zika virus] is an oncolytic virus that can preferentially target GSC [glioblastoma stem cells]; thus, genetically modified strains that further optimize safety could have therapeutic efficacy for adult glioblastoma patients,” the researchers wrote in the report.

However, the researchers urge caution in moving their experiment into humans.

“Although we observed significant effects on mouse high-grade glioma models in vivo [in a living organism] and on patient-derived GSCs in vitro, it remains to be determined how ZIKV strains perform in patient-derived GSCs in vivo,” they wrote in the discussion.

The research team included members from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, the Cleveland Clinic, the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.

An estimated 23,800 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with malignant brain cancer in 2017, according to the National Cancer Institute, and of those cases, over half will be glioblastoma multiforme.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme in July, a disease that killed Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in 2009.

Glioblastoma multiforme is typically treated with a combination of chemotherapy and radiation, but survival rates remain extremely low. About 33 percent of people diagnosed survive after five years.

In recent months experimental treatments for patients wearing an electric cap sending targeted electric waves into the brain have shown promise.

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