Can the Ebola Virus be Used to Combat Brain Cancer?

Ironically enough, elements of the Ebola virus may be used to combat glioblastomas, according to a study which appeared in the Journal of Virology.

The approach takes advantage of a weakness in most cancer tumors and also of an Ebola defense against the immune system response to pathogens.

Unlike normal cells, a large percentage of cancer cells lack the ability to generate an innate immune response against invaders such as viruses. This has led cancer researchers to explore the use of viruses to combat a variety of cancers.

Prof. Ven den Pol and the study’s first author, Xue Zhang, also of Yale, used a chimeric virus containing one of gene from the Ebola virus — a glycoprotein with a mucin-line domain (MLD). They then injected this chimeric virus into the brains of mice with glioblastoma and found that the MLD helped selectively target and kill deadly glioblastoma brain tumors.

“The irony is that one of the world’s deadliest viruses may be useful in treating one of the deadliest of brain cancers,” said Yale’s Anthony van den Pol, professor of neurosurgery in a press release.

Van den Pol said MLD’s beneficial effect appears to be that it protects normal cells from infection — but not cancer cells, which lack the ability to mount an immune response to pathogens.

A key factor may be that the virus with the glycoprotein MLD replicates less rapidly, potentially making it safer than viruses without the MLD part of the glycoprotein, he said.


In theory, such a virus might be used in conjunction with surgery to eliminate glioblastoma tumors and help prevent a recurrence of cancer, he said.