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Zika could one day help combat deadly brain cancer

Virus infects and kills the stem cells that turn into glioblastomas

4:54pm, September 5, 2017
Zika virus and stem cells

VIRUS VICTORY  Zika virus (green) infects and kills stem cells (red) in human glioblastoma tissue, without infecting healthy brain cells. Because the stem cells generate the brain cancer cells, killing off the stem cells might prevent tumors from recurring.

Zika’s damaging neurological effects might someday be enlisted for good — to treat brain cancer.

In human cells and in mice, the virus infected and killed the stem cells that become a glioblastoma, an aggressive brain tumor, but left healthy brain cells alone. Jeremy Rich, a regenerative medicine scientist at the University of California, San Diego, and colleagues report the findings online September 5 in the Journal of Experimental Medicine.

Previous studies had shown that Zika kills stem cells that generate nerve cells in developing brains (SN: 4/2/16, p. 26). Because of similarities between those neural precursor cells and stem cells that turn into glioblastomas, Rich’s team suspected the virus might also target the cells that cause the notoriously deadly type of cancer. In the

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