How Can Zika Virus Be Used To Cure Brain Cancer?

Cancer Killing zika virus cover

Cancer in any shape or form is perhaps one of the most deadly and dangerous diseases one can encounter and to this day we do not have a direct cure for it. While chemotherapy and radiation therapy exist, it kills other healthy cells along with cancer and even if the person is able to survive it, these treatments leave them with an extremely weak body vulnerable to attacks by other viruses and infections. But what if there was a virus that could actually cure cancer?

Glioblastoma multiform

Glioblastoma multiform or GBM is one of the most aggressive forms of brain cancer that targets the brain and spinal cord. GBM is formed when astrocytes which are cells that support nerve cells are mutated and although it can occur at any age mostly older individuals are seen to be affected by it. It causes headaches, nausea, vomiting, and seizures which continue to worsen as cancer grows. Unlike other cancers, GBM can be extremely difficult to treat and in most cases not even curable, only symptoms can be delayed by various methods.

Glioblastoma multiform brain

Damage caused to the brain by Glioblastoma multiform.

What is Zika Virus?

Before getting to its cancer-curing properties it is important to know what exactly is Zika virus. It is carried by mosquitoes and is similar to dengue fever, and yellow fever. By contracting it one can experience muscle pain, fever, redness of the eyes, and joint pain, though it can affect anyone, one disturbing thing about the Zika virus is that pregnant women are at high risk of it because unlike other viruses it can cross the placenta and affect the fetus resulting in many diseases and abnormalities in the child, especially with the brain as it stuns the growth of the brain and it is seen a child born have deformed skulls. It is mostly found in Africa and South America.

Zika effect

A baby born after being infected by the Zika virus.

Brain cancer-curing properties

So if this virus in itself is nothing but a problem, how come it is used in treating cancer? While on the surface it may seem like both of these completely different kinds but they share some significant similarities. Therefore, in theory, it can be used by our bodies and use it as a weapon against this deadly cancer. So studies were conducted to see if it was possible.

Cancer representation

Illustration of a cancer cell.

Once scientists introduced the Zika virus to Glioblastoma, it was seen that it attacked the virus at least in the Petri dishes, and to later find if it will actually work it was tested on mice, and yet again it was seen that Zika virus specifically preferred to target and infect glioblastoma stem cells over normal cells. Why the virus behaved in such a way remained unclear until now. In order to understand the workings of the virus on the membrane of cancer cells, scientists scanned the virus’s surface for integrins. Integrins are specific receptors that viruses use to latch onto victims’ cells and tearing the membrane open and stepping inside. They identified numerous integrins, but they used specific proteins to seal one integrin at a time and launched the virus in a petri dish to see what specific integrin was utilized that allows the virus to slip in the cell. As you can imagine this took a while but after many trials and errors, it was found that αvβ5 integrin was responsible for this action.

Zika virus attacking brain cancer

Zika viruses attacking brain cancer under a microscope.

Later it was found that αvβ5 is made up of two halves; αv and β5, while the formers enable the virus to attack normal cells as αv is found in abundance on stem cells, it is the latter that is found on cancer cells which guides the virus to attack them. To test this, the Zika virus was used on human brain organoids, which are tiny human brain models that are grown in a lab dish, yes, this freaky thing is real. Upon injecting the virus on organoids, it was seen that virus in majority infected cancer cells over healthy cells, and as expected if αvβ5 was sealed, they couldn’t infect whatsoever and simply existed till they die.

Now scientists are relying on CRISPR gene-editing technology which is a marvel in itself, to design the perfect cancer-killing virus without causing any harm to the normal and healthy cells. While it may take some time, other approaches are also underway to cure cancer such as using a specific RNA. In the end, it doesn’t matter what form of treatment comes out first or on top, the important thing is that it should kill cancer without harming the individual because humanity has been suffering from this disease for so long now and it is time it comes to an end.


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