Zika virus could offer new way to attack deadly brain cancers

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Image: Felipe Dana/AP

New research has revealed that the Zika virus breaks into brain cells by using a special molecular key, and scientists think the virus could be tweaked so that it infects only brain cancer cells, leaving healthy cells unharmed.

The aggressive brain cancer glioblastoma often defies standard cancer treatment because the disease transforms normal brain cells into stem cells. While typical neurons stop dividing after so many replications, stem cells can reproduce indefinitely and grow a whole new tumor from just a handful of cells.

But where standard treatments fail, the Zika virus may offer a new strategy to wipe out the deadly disease, according to a pair of studies published Jan. 16 in the journals Cell Reports and Cell Stem Cell.

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Other deadly viruses could also serve as weapons against brain cancer. In a study published in 2018 in The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers treated glioblastoma patients with a genetically modified poliovirus and found that more than 20% remained alive three years later, as compared with 4 percent of patients who received a standard treatment, Live Science reported at the time. As the field of virotherapy continues to grow, once-deadly diseases may prove to be powerful weapons in the fight against cancer.

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