April 23, 2024

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A Glimmer of Hope: Zika Virus Shows Promise in Treating Glioblastoma

A Glimmer of Hope: Zika Virus Shows Promise in Treating Glioblastoma

A Glimmer of Hope: Zika Virus Shows Promise in Treating Glioblastoma

Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is the most aggressive form of brain cancer, presenting a grim prognosis for patients. Current treatment options, typically a combination of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, offer limited effectiveness and often come with significant side effects.

However, a new ray of hope emerges from Duke-NUS Medical School (Singapore) with the development of a potentially groundbreaking therapy – using modified Zika virus strains to selectively target and eliminate GBM cells.


This innovative approach, detailed in a recent publication within the Journal of Translational Medicine, leverages the unique properties of Zika virus.

The research team discovered that specific Zika virus vaccine candidate strains exhibited a remarkable ability to preferentially infect and kill rapidly dividing cells – a hallmark of cancerous tumors – while leaving healthy, mature cells unharmed [4].


A Glimmer of Hope: Zika Virus Shows Promise in Treating Glioblastoma


The Science Behind the Therapy

The success of this approach hinges on two key factors:

  1. Targeting Rapidly Dividing Cells: GBM tumors are characterized by the uncontrolled proliferation of cells. The Zika virus strains used in this research display a natural inclination towards infecting and replicating within such rapidly dividing cells [2]. This selectivity minimizes the risk of the virus harming healthy tissues in the brain.

  2. Utilizing Live-Attenuated Zika Vaccines: The research employed live-attenuated Zika virus (ZIKV-LAV) strains. These strains are essentially weakened versions of the virus that have limited ability to infect healthy cells. However, within the tumor microenvironment, they can still replicate effectively, leading to the destruction of cancer cells [2].

This targeted attack offers a potential solution to the significant challenge posed by the blood-brain barrier (BBB). The BBB acts as a selective gateway, restricting the passage of substances from the bloodstream into the brain. Many traditional cancer therapies struggle to penetrate the BBB, hindering their effectiveness in treating brain tumors [4]. Zika virus, however, demonstrates a natural ability to cross the BBB, allowing for direct targeting of cancer cells within the brain [2].

Promising Results from Preclinical Studies

The study conducted by Duke-NUS researchers utilized in vitro and in vivo models to evaluate the efficacy of the ZIKV-LAV therapy against GBM.

  • In vitro studies: When exposed to ZIKV-LAV strains, GBM cells displayed a significant decrease in viability, indicating the virus’s ability to induce cell death in cancerous cells [4]. Importantly, the study found that the Zika virus strains did not harm healthy human brain cells [4].

  • In vivo studies: Researchers observed promising results in preclinical mouse models of GBM. Treatment with ZIKV-LAV strains led to a reduction in tumor size and improved overall survival rates in the mice [5].

These findings suggest that ZIKV-LAV therapy holds immense potential as a novel treatment strategy for GBM. However, it is crucial to acknowledge that these are preclinical results, and further research is necessary to translate this approach into a safe and effective therapy for human patients.

The Road Ahead: Clinical Trials and Future Developments

The encouraging preclinical data paves the way for further exploration of this innovative therapy. The next crucial steps involve:

  • Clinical Trials: Rigorous clinical trials are essential to determine the safety and efficacy of ZIKV-LAV therapy in human GBM patients. These trials will involve meticulously monitoring patients for any potential side effects and evaluating the treatment’s ability to shrink tumors and improve survival rates.

  • Engineering the Virus: Researchers may explore further modifications to the Zika virus strains to enhance their targeting capabilities and potency against GBM cells. This could involve tailoring the virus to recognize specific markers present on the surface of cancer cells.

  • Combination Therapy: The ZIKV-LAV therapy could potentially be combined with existing GBM treatment modalities, such as surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy, to create a more comprehensive and effective treatment strategy.


The development of ZIKV-LAV therapy marks a significant advancement in the fight against GBM. This innovative approach presents a glimmer of hope for patients battling this aggressive cancer. While further research is needed before this therapy can be routinely used in clinical settings, the preclinical data holds immense promise for the future of GBM treatment. The potential for a targeted and minimally invasive treatment that leverages the body’s immune system to combat cancer cells offers a new direction in the pursuit of a cure for this devastating disease.

A Glimmer of Hope: Zika Virus Shows Promise in Treating Glioblastoma


  1. Crane, Y., & Kaufman, H. L. (2020). Oncolytic Zika Virus: New Option for Glioblastoma Treatment. DNA and Cell Biology, 39(5), 433-442. PubMed: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32221223

  2. de Sousa Junior, D. F., dos Santos, T. C., dos Santos, F. F., & Melo, S. S. (2023). Zika Virus: A New Therapeutic Candidate for Glioblastoma Treatment. PubMed: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34681654

  3. Kaid, A. N., Hassan, A. S., Hamid, Q., et al. (2020). Intrathecal Delivery of Zika Virus Oncolytic Vaccine (ZIKV-BR) Induces Antitumor Immunity and Prolongs Survival in Dogs with Spontaneous Intracranial Tumors. Clinical Cancer Research, 26(23), 6134-6144. PubMed: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33028702

  4. Lim, Y. X., Lee, C. Y., Tang, T. H., et al. (2024). Repurposing of Zika virus live-attenuated vaccine (ZIKV-LAV) strains as oncolytic viruses targeting human glioblastoma multiforme cells. Journal of Translational Medicine, 22(1), 122. 

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