Could Zika help fight brain cancer? Some scientists think it’s possible

World Today

Hope for a cancer cure is coming from an unexpected source. Scientists in Brazil think the Zika virus may help in the fight against brain cancer. While it will be a long time before they know for sure, they say initial research is promising.

CGTN’s Paulo Cabral reports from Sao Paulo.

Beginning in 2015, an unexpected and frightening epidemic in Brazil made headlines across the world. Hundreds of babies were born with microcephaly, a birth defect that results in abnormally small skulls. It’s a serious condition with serious repercussions.

Doctors suspected the Zika virus as the culprit, likely carried by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito; the same mosquito that transmits Dengue Fever.

The problem, however, led researchers at the Campinas University to ask an unexpected question: if the Zika virus could affect the brain cells of fetuses, could the virus also kill cancer stem cells in the brain?

Laboratory tests suggest it can. Tumor cells inoculated with the virus died, while regular adult brain cells were not affected.

The researchers published their findings in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, and are now hoping to secure funding to continue their research.

“We need to test this using animals,” according to Estela de Oliveira Lima, a biomedical scientist at Campinas University. “We need to inoculate the virus in animals with brain cancer to see if it works to eliminate them, and what doses we need to use to be safe and effective.”

If the results are validated, scientists can proceed to clinical trials in humans.

But while initial research returned promising results, transforming the Zika virus into an actual treatment is a long and complicated process, likely to take several years.

It’s in the long-term that Dr. Roger Chammas, the oncologist who heads the research department at the Institute of Cancer of São Paulo, sees potential in creating a Zika therapy to treat cancer.

“Once we tame the virus, we know the virus… and we can use it for our benefit,” he explained. “This is what people are doing, trying to tame the Zika virus.”

Dr. Chammas said there are already existing protocols in China for using tamed viruses to treat diseases which can be looked to for guidance. Transforming the Zika virus from a disease to a therapy, however, is still at least 5 to 10 years away.