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Zika virus could be used to treat rare, deadly childhood cancer

Researchers at Nemours Children's Hospital and UCF are close to figuring out if Zika virus could be a treatment for neuroblastoma.

ORLANDO, Fla. — We've been talking a lot about coronavirus, but in 2016 and 2017 we were talking about Zika Virus. 

To be clear, the CDC says there are no cases of Zika virus in the US right now, but we're talking about this now because researchers are using it for something else: to fight cancer. 

Researchers at University of Central Florida and Nemours Children's Hospital are one step closer to figuring out if Zika virus could be a treatment for neuroblastoma. It's a rare, but deadly childhood cancer. A diagnosis can be devastating. 

Remember, Zika is spread mostly by an infected mosquito. It can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus, that was a major concern when we had cases here, because it can cause certain birth defects. There is no vaccine or medicine for Zika. But, Zika could be used for treatment. 

A study published in 2018 by researchers from Nemours Children's Hospital showed Zika destroyed most neuroblastoma cells that had been cultured in a lab. 

In 2019, the study moved to mice, which opens to the door to a possible clinical trial. It showed the death rate of a neuroblastoma tumor around 90 percent, and that's with one treatment. 

While this is early, it's an important step in cancer therapy. 

This basic science should give them hope. And it does take a long time to do basic science, and translate it into mice and translate into hopefully a phase 1 clinical trial, but it is a start," says Dr. Tamarah Westmoreland, a surgeon at Nemours Children's Hospital and UCF researcher. 

Now, researchers are confirming the mouse work and looking at the different doses and how many injections are needed. 

Westmoreland says hopefully this is something that could be expanded to help other families. 

"I think it's important for people, especially in Central Florida, to know that basic science research is going on right here at home to try and make a difference."

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