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LPT's Research Project of the Month

LPT's Research Project of the Month

Can the Zika virus help to treat children with cancer?

It’s hard to imagine looking at the Zika virus and coming up with a way to help children with cancer, but Dr Rob Ewing has done just that.

After experts at the University of São Paulo in Brazil discovered that some childhood brain tumours are susceptible to the Zika Virus, Rob wanted to investigate how this finding could treat childhood brain tumours.

With his expert team at the University of Southampton, he is looking to find out which types of childhood brain tumours the Zika virus can attack best, and how it actually attacks and harms the cancer cells.

This project has only just finished its first year but the team is already seeing differences between normal cancer cells and cells infected with the Zika virus.

But why do we need such an innovative approach? Childhood brain tumours can be very difficult to treat and the treatments can have a lot of side effects.

The brain has a barrier that protects it from most things, like medicines and infections, but this means that a lot of chemotherapy medicines don’t work for brain tumours.

Dr Rob Ewing from Southampton University.

The Zika virus is already good at getting past this barrier, and already affects brain tumour cells. This means it could lead to a treatment for childhood cancer that doesn’t damage as much healthy brain tissue as normal medicines, and so would have fewer long term side effects.

To find out how the Zika virus attacks cancer cells, the researchers have been studying the genetics of cancer cells which are infected with the Zika virus.

This project has only just finished its first year but the team is already seeing differences between normal cancer cells and cells infected with the Zika virus.

Now, they are looking at 3D clumps of cancer cells, made in the lab, to see how the Zika virus changes tumours as a whole.

There’s still a lot of research to do before this could be used for children with cancer, but it is an exciting new possibility and definitely very innovative!

 

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The MBE for volunteer groups, awarded to The Little Princess Trust by Her Majesty The Queen.