UK scientists to harness Zika virus to kill brain tumour cells

Scientists in the UK plan to harness the Zika virus to try to kill brain tumour cells in experiments that, according to them, could lead to new ways to fight an aggressive types of cancer.

The focus of the research will be glioblastoma, the most common form of brain cancer, with a five-year survival rate of barely 5 per cent.

Zika infection leads to severe disability in babies as it attacks developing stem cells in the brain - but in adults, whose brains are fully formed, it often causes no more than mild flu-like symptoms.

The cancer cells in glioblastoma are similar to those in the developing brain, suggesting that they could be targeted by the virus. However, normal adult brain tissue will not be harmed.

According to experts, existing treatments have to be administered at low doses to avoid damaging healthy tissue.

Harry Bulstrode of Cambridge University will lead a team of researchers who will use tumour cells in the lab and in mice to assess the potential of Zika virus.

The mosquito-borne virus has spread over 60 countries and territories in a global outbreak first identified in Brazil in 2015.

''Zika virus infection in babies and children is a major global health concern, and the focus has been to discover more about the virus to find new possible treatments,'' Bulstrode said in a statement.

''We're taking a different approach, and want to use these new insights to see if the virus can be unleashed against one of the hardest to treat cancers.

''We hope to show that the Zika virus can slow down brain tumour growth in tests in the lab.''

Dr Iain Foulkes, director of research and innovation at Cancer Research UK, which is funding the research, said: ''We urgently need new insights and treatments to tackle glioblastomas, one of the most common and difficult to treat forms of brain tumours, The Telegraph reported.

''Finding new ways to treat brain tumours to help more people survive the disease is a priority for Cancer Research UK.''