While the Zika virus is feared for its ability to severely harm brain development and neurological health, researchers are seeking to use that power in an attempt to target aggressive brain cancer.
In a report published Tuesday in the journal mBIO, University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston researchers claimed to have successfully used a harmless form of the virus to dramatically slow the spread of glioblastoma cells, according to Chron.com.
Pei-Yong Shi, the study’s lead investigator, told the news outlet that the team created a vaccine from an inactivated form of Zika, which was able to target the glioblastoma stem cells while largely leaving the healthy brain neurons unaffected.
The team stripped the virus’ ability to replicate inside cells, essentially causing it to channel its energy into targeting glioblastoma stem cells.
Shi told Chron.com that his team’s study found that glioblastomas developed slower in mice who were injected with glioblastoma stem cells and the Zika vaccine, and that it will be tested as a preventative in Brazil in the near future.
“More work needs to be done, but these findings represent major progress toward developing the Zika vaccine as a safe and effective treatment for human glioblastoma,” Shi told Chron.com. “This could be a great example of science’s ability to turn something bad into something useful.”
Glioblastoma is the aggressive form of brain cancer that killed Sen. John McCain in August. With a combination of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, patients are typically given between 11 and 15 months to live post-diagnosis.