Zika vs. Childhood Cancer: The Battle Begins!


ORLANDO, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire) – Neuroblastoma is one of the deadliest childhood cancers. It typically develops in the abdomen, kidneys, adrenal glands and along the spinal cord. It’s rare, with only 800 cases diagnosed each year, but it causes 15 percent of all childhood cancer deaths. Now, a team of doctors in Florida could be at the forefront of a new lifesaving treatment.

Mosquitos — not only are they annoying – they can be deadly! The virus is typically spread through mosquito bites. Now, a team of researchers at Nemours Children’s in Orlando is using this same virus to wipe out neuroblastoma.

“It’s a smart missile. It was targeting certain cells and only those,” explains Research Scientist at Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando, Joseph Mazar, PhD.

“We know that Zika is working in neuroblastoma because neuroblastoma expresses a protein on its cell surface. It’s called CD24,” explains Pediatric Surgeon at the same hospital, Tamarah Westmoreland, MD, PhD.

(Read Full Interview)

For the study, researchers grew the tumors on the back of mice. After a single injection of the Zika virus, researchers saw a total elimination of the cancer within 10 days. But for the mice who received an injection of saline, the tumors grew by as much as 800 percent!

Mazar adds, “You have human tumors that are being eliminated rapidly, efficiently, no recurrence and no side effects. I don’t know how to beat that.”

The Zika virus treatment for cancers will only work in children, as the CD24 protein is only found in developing kids. Neuroblastoma typically occurs in children under the age of five, and more than half don’t respond to chemo or radiation. The team will continue more studies to see if the treatment is safe and then hopefully move on to human clinical trials.

Contributors to this news report include: Marsha Lewis, Producer; Matt Goldschmidt, Videographer; Roque Correa, Editor.

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BACKGROUND: Zika virus is a mosquito-borne flavivirus that has garnered significant attention due to its association with severe birth defects and neurological complications. Zika virus was first identified in 1947 in the Zika Forest of Uganda, in a rhesus monkey. It was later found in humans in 1952 in Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania. Zika virus affects 27,000 Americans per year. The primary vector for Zika virus transmission is the Aedes mosquito, particularly Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus. These mosquitoes also transmit dengue and chikungunya viruses. Childhood cancers, also known as pediatric cancers, encompass a diverse group of cancer types that occur in children and adolescents. They are relatively rare compared to adult cancers but can be particularly aggressive. In 2024, there will be over 9,000 new cases of cancer in children in the U.S., and over 1,000 are expected to die from it.

(Sources: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/zika-virus



DIAGNOSING: Many people infected with Zika virus are asymptomatic. When symptoms do occur, they are usually mild and include: fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis, muscle pain and/or headaches. Diagnosis is primarily through molecular tests (RT-PCR) to detect viral RNA in blood or other body fluids (urine, saliva). Serological tests to detect Zika-specific IgM antibodies are also used, though they can cross-react with other flaviviruses like dengue. For childhood cancers, Symptoms vary widely depending on the type and location of the cancer but may include: unexplained weight loss, fatigue and lethargy, persistent pain, unexplained fever, frequent infections, bruising or bleeding easily, swelling or lumps and/or changes in vision or eye appearance. Diagnosis typically involves a combination of: medical history and physical exam, x-rays, CT scans, MRIs, PET scans, lab tests, biopsies and/or bone marrow aspirations.

(Sources: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/zika-virus


NEW TECHNOLOGY: New research out of Nemours Children’s is suggesting that Zika virus might be able to cure childhood cancers. “In recent years, researchers have discovered that Zika virus, which is carried by mosquitoes, can potentially be used to kill cancer cells. Zika virus infections in pregnant women can cause serious birth defects as the virus targets CD24, a developmental protein. Previous research has suggested that certain cancers that express the CD24 protein are also vulnerable to the Zika virus, opening the door for Zika virus to be used as a treatment. In this study, Westmoreland and first author Joseph Mazar, PhD, Research Scientist at Nemours Children’s, examined Zika’s potential against neuroblastoma.”

(Source: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/nemours-childrens-health-researchers-find-zika-virus-is-effective-when-used-to-treat-a-type-of-childhood-cancer-in-mice-302030012.html)


Leah Goodwyne


If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com

Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Tamarah Westmoreland, MD, PhD, Pediatric Surgeon - Joseph Mazar, MD, Research Scientist

Read the entire Q&A