Pharma Focus Asia

Duke-NUS Study Unveils Zika Virus Vaccine's Potential as Brain Cancer Treatment

Saturday, March 09, 2024

Researchers at Duke-NUS Medical School (Duke-NUS) have devised a novel method employing the Zika virus to combat brain cancer cells, presenting a hopeful alternative for patients with glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive form of brain cancer.

Their study, published in the Journal of Translational Medicine, utilized Zika virus live-attenuated vaccine (ZIKV-LAV) strains, engineered to have limited ability to infect healthy cells while retaining the capacity to target and destroy rapidly proliferating cancer cells within the brain.

Dr. Carla Bianca Luena Victorio, a Senior Research Fellow at Duke-NUS, explained that Zika virus was selected due to its natural tendency to infect rapidly dividing cells in the brain, making it an ideal candidate for targeting cancer cells. The ZIKV-LAV strains, specifically engineered by the team, effectively infected cancer cells by binding to proteins present in elevated levels only in these diseased cells. Once inside the cancer cell, the virus hijacked its resources to replicate, ultimately leading to cell death. Importantly, this process also triggered an immune response that further impeded tumor growth.

Remarkably, the ZIKV-LAV strains demonstrated high efficacy in killing glioblastoma multiforme tumor cells, with up to 90% of cancer cells succumbing to the infection. Importantly, healthy cells, including those from brain blood vessels, remained unaffected by the virus. This stark contrast to the original Zika virus, which caused significant damage to healthy brain cells, highlights the precision of the engineered strains in selectively targeting cancerous cells.

Furthermore, the study revealed that even when ZIKV-LAV strains infected healthy cells, their ability to replicate was severely limited compared to their prolific replication within cancer cells. This underscores the favorable conditions for virus reproduction within cancerous environments.

Assistant Professor Ann-Marie Chacko emphasized the potential of ZIKV-LAV strains as both a vaccine and a potent therapy for brain cancer. The team is actively enhancing these strains to augment their efficacy against various cancer types while ensuring their safety for clinical use. Additionally, efforts are underway to develop non-invasive imaging techniques to track the virus's activity within patients.

The collaborative efforts of various research programs at Duke-NUS, including those focused on infectious diseases and neuroscience, have culminated in this promising advancement. With further development and validation, ZIKV-LAV strains may offer a transformative treatment option for controlling tumor growth and potentially eradicating cancer.



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