Zika Virus for Childhood Cancer


ORLANDO, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire)— 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.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Executive Producer; Milvionne Chery, Field Producer; Roque Correa, Videographer & Editor.

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BACKGROUND: Cancer begins when cells in the body start to grow out of control and crowd out normal cells. Cells in nearly any part of the body can become cancer and can spread to other areas. Types of cancers that develop in children are often different from the types that develop in adults. Neuroblastoma starts in very early forms of nerve cells, most often found in an embryo or fetus. This type of cancer occurs most often in infants and young children and is rare in children older than 10 years. It accounts for about 6% of all childhood cancer. In the United States, there are about 800 new cases each year.

(Source: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/neuroblastoma/about/what-is-neuroblastoma.html and https://www.cancer.org/cancer/neuroblastoma/about/key-statistics.html)

SYMPTOMS AND DIAGNOSIS: Neuroblastoma most commonly arises in and around the adrenal glands. However, it can also develop in other areas of the abdomen and in the chest, neck and near the spine, where groups of nerve cells exist. Symptoms of neuroblastoma vary depending on what part of the body is affected. In the abdomen, it can cause abdominal pain, a mass under the skin that isn’t tender when touched, or changes in bowel habits, such as diarrhea or constipation. In the chest, it can cause wheezing, chest pain, or changes to the eyes, including drooping eyelids and unequal pupil size. Other symptoms that may show are back pain, fever, unexplained weight loss, or bone pain. A diagnosis can be found through a physical exam, urine and blood tests, imaging tests, removing a sample of tissue for testing, or removing a sample of bone marrow for testing.

(Source: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/neuroblastoma/symptoms-causes/syc-20351017)

ZIKA VIRUS AS POTENTIAL TREATMENT: Researchers at Nemours Children’s Hospital examined the impact of Zika viruses on neuroblastoma cells by infecting different types of cultured neuroblastoma cells and then measuring the impact. Ten days after infection, most neuroblastoma cells were killed. However, one specific neuroblastoma cell line, SK-N-AS, showed resistance to Zika infection. The researchers found that this cell line had poorly expressed levels of the protein, CD24, a membrane protein. They also determined that CD24 on neuroblastoma cells was required for Zika viral infection, which could be used as a potential cancer treatment. “The same thing that makes Zika so detrimental to developing infants gives it promise as a cancer treatment. Its attack on developing nerve cells, the same type of cells neuroblastoma is derived, allows the virus to selectively target cancer cells and leave normal cells alone,” said Tamarah Westmoreland, MD, PhD, a Pediatric General and Thoracic surgeon at Nemours Children’s Hospital.

(Source: https://www.florence-health.com/specialties/oncology/zika-viruses-show-potential-as-treatment-for-high-risk-childhood-cancer/)




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Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Tamarah Westmoreland, MD, PhD, Pediatric Surgeon

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