According to US scientists, the harmful Zika virus that can cause devastating brain damage in babies could offer up a surprising new treatment for adult brain cancer.
Until now, Zika has been seen only as a global health threat – not a remedy.
However, latest research shows Zika virus can selectively infect and kill hard-to-treat cancerous cells in adult brains.
Zika injections shrank aggressive tumors in fully grown mice, yet left other brain cells unscathed.
Human trials are still a way off, but researchers believe Zika virus could potentially be injected into the brain at the same time as surgery to remove life-threatening tumours, the Journal of Experimental Medicine reports.
The Zika treatment appears to work on human cell samples in the lab.
There are many different types of brain cancer. Glioblastomas are the most common in adults and one of the trickiest to treat.
They are fast growing and diffuse, meaning they spread through the brain, making it difficult to see where the tumor ends and the healthy tissue begins.
Radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgery may not be enough to remove these invasive cancers.
However, the latest research, in living mice and donated human brain tissue samples, shows Zika therapy can kill cells that tend to be resistant to current treatments.
It is thought that these glioblastoma stem cells continue to grow and divide, producing new tumor cells even after aggressive medical treatment.
Different, healthy stem cells are found in abundance in baby brains, which probably explains why regular Zika can be so damaging to infants, say the researchers.
Adult brains, however, have very few stem cells. This means Zika treatment should destroy only the cancer-causing brain stem cells without causing much collateral damage.
As an extra safety precaution, the research team from Washington University School of Medicine and the University of California San Diego School of Medicine has already begun modifying the virus to make it more tame than regular Zika.
Using viruses to fight cancer is not a new idea, but using Zika as the weapon of choice is.
UK scientists at the University of Cambridge are beginning similar trials with Zika.