Zika Virus: An Unexpected Ally Against Childhood Cancer

Mosquitoes May Hold Cancer Cure

Image of mosquito. Credit: nechaevkon/Shutterstock.com

Could a virus known for causing harm be repurposed to fight cancer? This is the intriguing question raised by recent research in the United States, shedding new light on the fight against neuroblastoma, a rare and deadly childhood cancer.

In a ground-breaking study led by researchers at Nemours Children’s Health and published in Cancer Research Communications, a journal of the American Cancer Research Association, it was revealed that injecting neuroblastoma tumours with the Zika virus significantly reduced or eliminated cancer cells.

Neuroblastoma is a rare childhood cancer with between 700 and 800 cases in the US every year. High-risk neuroblastoma takes a disproportionate toll and causes 15 per cent of childhood cancer deaths.

The study, which offers new hope in the battle against this tumour is generating much attention worldwide.

Zika Virus: From Disease to Treatment

Traditionally known for its detrimental effects, especially in pregnant women, the Zika virus was first identified in Uganda in 1947 in a rhesus macaque monkey.

It was later found to infect humans in various African countries in the 1950s. Between the 1960s and 1980s, sporadic human infections were noted in Africa and Asia.

However, major outbreaks have been reported since 2007 in regions including Africa, the Americas, Asia, and the Pacific.

The virus’s capability to attack the CD24 protein, a developmental marker, which can lead to serious birth defects, is now being redirected to fight cancer.

Some cancers expressing the CD24 protein are susceptible to Zika, presenting an opportunity for this virus to serve as a treatment method.

Research Findings: A Ray of Hope

Research at Nemours Children’s Health, studied mice with neuroblastoma tumours high in CD24. They injected half of these mice with a saline solution and the other half with the Zika virus. The results were remarkable.

Mice treated with the virus experienced a near-complete reduction in tumour size, with the highest dose completely eradicating the tumour, as confirmed by an independent Nemours Children’s pathologist. Four weeks later, there was no sign of tumour recurrence.

The researchers emphasise that extensive further studies are needed to establish the safety and effectiveness of using the Zika virus as an anti-cancer therapy. Currently, they are testing this treatment in mouse adrenal glands, which more closely resemble the typical human neuroblastoma location.

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Written by

John Ensor

Originally from Doncaster, Yorkshire, John now lives in Galicia, Northern Spain with his wife Nina. He is passionate about news, music, cycling and animals.