Zika Virus Shows Promise Targeting Glioblastoma Cells

Zika virus may infect glioblastoma stem cells and prevent replication.

The Zika virus (ZIKV) caused worldwide panic, as transmission spread across the globe. The World Health Organization currently advises that pregnant women refrain from travelling to ZIKV-affected areas due to the risk of birth defects. Findings have also linked ZIKV to Guillain-Barre syndrome and other neurological disorders.

A new study published by The Journal of Experimental Medicine suggest that ZIKV may be beneficial in the fight against brain cancer. The investigators found that the virus selectively infects and kills glioblastoma cells, while leaving healthy brain tissue unscathed. These results were confirmed in both human tissue samples and mice models of glioblastoma.

Despite current advancements in treatment, patients with glioblastoma have very low survival rates and high rates of recurrence. This subtype of brain cancer is known to grow aggressively as a result of aggregates of unspecialized cells. ZIKV is known to infect similar groups of cells in the nervous system of fetuses, resulting in the hallmarks of the condition, including microcephaly and other abnormalities, according to the study.

In the study, the authors introduced ZIKV to human samples of glioblastoma tumors, which were removed during cancer treatment. The authors also introduced the virus to human neural cells to determine the potential impact of ZIKV on healthy cells.

After 7 days, the authors discovered that ZIKV replicated in glioblastoma cells, which was observed to prevent the cells from multiplying, according to the study. Importantly, ZIKV was not found to infect healthy neural tissue cultures.

The investigators further tested the approach in mice with glioblastoma and treated 1 group with an adapted strain of ZIKV.

Mice treated with ZIKV were observed to survive longer than mice in the control group. After 7 days, these mice also had smaller tumors compared with control mice, according to the study.

These results suggest that ZIKV may be able to effectively prevent the spread or recurrence of glioblastoma in humans.

Despite the overall positive findings, the authors caution that ZIKV may act differently in human patients with active glioblastoma. If further studies demonstrate similar, promising results, treatments derived from ZIKV would require extensive testing, according to the study.

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