April 21, 2024
Zika Virus Vaccine

Revolutionary Use of Zika Virus Vaccine in Combating Brain Cancer

In a groundbreaking development, researchers from Duke-NUS Medical School have successfully utilized the Zika virus as a tool to target and eliminate brain cancer cells, all while preserving non-cancerous cells. Their innovative approach involves utilizing Zika virus vaccine candidates to specifically target fast-growing cancer cells in the adult brain, showcasing promising results that may revolutionize the treatment landscape for brain cancer patients with a dismal prognosis.

The study, published in the Journal of Translational Medicine, sheds light on a potential new therapeutic alternative for individuals diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, the most prevalent form of malignant brain cancer affecting over 300,000 patients globally each year. With survival rates typically averaging around 15 months due to recurrent tumors and limited treatment options, the use of oncolytic virotherapy has emerged as a beacon of hope for combating the challenges associated with brain cancer treatment.

The Zika virus, known for its ability to infect rapidly dividing cells in the brain, offers a novel approach to reaching and destroying elusive cancer cells that are traditionally resistant to treatment. By leveraging Zika virus live-attenuated vaccine strains, the researchers were able to effectively infect and kill cancer cells while sparing healthy cells within the surrounding environment.

Dr. Carla Bianca Luena Victorio, the first author of the study and Senior Research Fellow at Duke-NUS’ Cancer & Stem Cell Biology Research Program, emphasized the unique characteristics of Zika virus strains that make them ideal candidates for targeting brain cancer cells. The researchers observed that the live-attenuated virus strains demonstrated high efficacy in infecting cancer cells by binding to specific proteins present in elevated levels exclusively in cancerous cells, triggering the cells’ destruction.

Moreover, the study highlighted the ability of Zika virus strains to replicate within cancer cells, leading to the cells’ demise and subsequent release of virus progeny that could further infect neighboring cancer cells. This cascade effect, combined with the activation of an immune response against tumor growth, resulted in a significant reduction (65% to 90%) in glioblastoma multiforme tumor cells.

Importantly, the study revealed that the Zika virus strains had minimal impact on healthy cells, with only a small percentage (9% to 20%) of blood vessel cells in the brain being infected without succumbing to the virus. In contrast, the original Zika virus strain exhibited a higher toxicity towards healthy brain cells, underscoring the specificity and safety profile of the engineered Zika virus strains.

The research team, led by Dr. Victorio and Assistant Professor Ann-Marie Chacko, is actively refining the Zika virus strains to enhance their potency in targeting not only brain cancer cells but also other types of cancer cells. Their ultimate goal is to commercialize these virus strains as both a Zika vaccine and a potential treatment for various cancers, including ovarian cancer.

Professor Patrick Tan, Senior Vice-Dean for Research at Duke-NUS, lauded the collaborative efforts of the interdisciplinary research teams involved in this study, showcasing how diverse expertise can converge to drive medical innovation and improve patient outcomes. The groundbreaking discoveries from this study may pave the way for a paradigm shift in cancer treatment, offering new hope for patients battling aggressive brain tumors and beyond.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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