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Zika Virus for Childhood Cancer: Medicine’s Next Big Thing?

(WGEM) -- Neuroblastoma is the most common cancer in kids under age one. In two out of three cases, the cancer has already spread to the lymph nodes by the time of diagnosis.

Now, details on how researchers are using the Zika virus to treat this devastating childhood cancer.

COVID-19 is at the top of everyone’s mind right now, but just a few years ago, another virus was making headlines.

“Zika virus, when you hear that, it gives people fear,” expressed Tamarah Westmoreland, MD, PhD, a pediatric surgeon at Nemours Children’s Hospital and professor at University of Central Florida College of Medicine

The virus is spread by infected mosquitos and can cause birth defects in the children of pregnant women. But these researchers are now using the Zika virus to bring hope to young children battling cancer.

“It turns out that there are a number of tumors that may be amenable to treatment with Zika virus,” revealed Kenneth Alexander, MD, PhD, Chief of Infectious Diseases at Nemours Children’s Hospital and professor at University of Central Florida College of Medicine.

One of those is neuroblastoma, a cancer that starts in the early nerve cells of kids.

“Stage 4 or high-risk neuroblastoma and their survival is only about 40 percent, even with advanced treatment,” explained Dr. Westmoreland.

In a study, Zika virus was injected into mice with neuroblastoma tumors. The virus attached to a protein specific to cancer cells, leaving normal cells alone.

“Approximately 90 percent of the neuroblastoma is killed with a single injection of Zika virus,” shared Dr. Westmoreland.

The idea of injecting the Zika virus can still sound scary, but ...

“Anyone after they’re born is pretty resistant to Zika virus infection, the exception hopefully being their tumors,” said Dr. Alexander.

The team is now focused on perfecting dosages and identifying which tumors the Zika virus will attack. Besides neuroblastoma, the researchers say this treatment could also be effective against brain tumors.

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Don Dwyer

Don Dwyer is a Morning Anchor/Reporter at WGEM.

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