CBS Local — Scientists believe they have found a new treatment in the fight against cancerous brain tumors. The answer comes from an unusual source that has caused severe brain damage in many newborns on its own: the Zika virus.
Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis say the dangerous, mosquito-borne virus can kill the stem cells in brain tumors.
“Let’s take advantage of what it’s good at, use it to eradicate cells we don’t want. Take viruses that would normally do some damage and make them do some good,” said Washington University’s Dr. Michael Diamond.
Zika, which traveled from Polynesia to South America before reaching the U.S., can cause microcephaly in babies whose mothers were infected during pregnancy. The devastating condition causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads and neurological problems. The virus has also been connected to other symptoms like fever, dehydration, and in rare cases, paralysis.
Scientists believe that since adults have a much lower number of stem cells in their body, the virus can be selectively injected into a cancer patient’s tumor cells to kill the disease.
“It looks like there’s a silver lining to Zika. This virus that targets cells that are very important for brain growth in babies, we could use that now to target growing tumors,” Diamond added.
The Zika injections have reportedly been used on living mice and human brain tissue samples. Researchers say early tests show the therapy can kill cells that are usually resistant to standard treatments. Dr. Diamond and his colleagues are reportedly hoping to test the Zika treatment on humans in the next 18 months.