FL researchers testing Zika virus to fight childhood brain cancer

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Neuroblastoma is one of the deadliest childhood cancers. It typically develops in the abdomen, kidneys, adrenal glands and along the spinal cord. While it is rare, the prognosis is not good, accounting for 15% of all pediatric cancer deaths.

Now, a team of researchers out of Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando is taking a novel approach to wipe out disease. Their studies involve the use of the Zika virus.

Typically spread through mosquito bites, scientist Dr. Joseph Mazar said they are testing the use of the Zika virus to wipe out neuroblastoma. β€œIt’s a smart missile. It was targeting certain cells and only those.”

Directing the virus against cancer is a novel yet promising idea. β€œWe know that Zika is working in neuroblastoma because neuroblastoma expresses a protein on its cell surface. It’s called CD24,” said Nemours Children’s Hospital Orlando pediatric surgeon Dr. Tamarah Westmoreland.

For the study, researchers grew the tumor on the back of mice. After a single injection of the Zika virus, researchers saw a total elimination of the cancer within ten days. But for mice who received an injection of saline instead, the tumors grew by as much as 800%.

It is giving researchers cause for hope. β€œYou have human tumors that are being eliminated rapidly, efficiently, [with] no recurrence and no side effects. I don’t know how to beat that,” said Dr. Mazar.

This Zika virus treatment will only work in children because the CD24 protein is only found in developing youngsters.

Neuroblastoma is most common in kids under five. More than half of them don’t respond to chemo or radiation. The research team will continue with studies to see if the treatment is safe and then hopefully move on to human clinical trials.

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