A team of researchers led by Dr. Jim Olson from the Seattle Children’s Hospital have developed an effective treatment for brain cancer using scorpion venom. So-called “tumor paint” makes it easier for surgeons to differentiate healthy tissue from cancerous tissue by lighting up cancer cells, according to Dr. Olson’s presentation at this year’s PopTech convention. "Scorpions have been evolving over millions of years to make a drug that can get into the brain and paralyze the victim," Dr. Olson explained at last month’s convention. "The scorpion toxin finds the cancer cells and drags the flashlight into them and makes them glow brilliantly."
The venom-based solution was discovered as part of Project Violet. Project Violet, named after one of Dr. Olson’s former pediatric patients, was recently launched in August 2013 under the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Funding raised by Project Violet is used to conduct research at Dr. Olson’s Blaze Bioscience in hopes of discovering a cure. Project Violet’s website also gives users the opportunity to “adopt” and name a drug candidate for $100. Scientists at Project Violet are focused on “optimized peptides” also known as “optides” which are developed from small proteins found in plants and animals. By combining venom from an Israeli deathstalker scorpion with a fluorescent molecule already used in surgery, Dr. Olson and his colleagues were able to create new technology that separates cancer cells and healthy cells, CNN reported.
To date, surgeons use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to identify and remove cancerous cells. Unfortunately, an MRI cannot differentiate cancer cells from healthy cells during a procedure which could be extremely dangerous to a patient if too many healthy cells are removed. Venom from a scorpion can also makes its way past the blood-brain barrier faster than other molecules. Pre-clinical trials conducted on “tumor paint” have revealed its ability to identify cancerous cells in dogs and mice. Although it was created for the treatment of brain tumors, “tumor paint” can also identify tumors in breasts, skin and colon, ABC News reported. Dr. Olson expects human trials involving “tumor paint” to start this month in Australia.
“I dream that before I retire, I will be able to walk into the room of a child with newly diagnosed brainstem glioma and tell them that there is hope for survival,” Dr. Olson said in a statement. “I don't care whether the advances come from our team or someone else — but I think we have the intellectual power, fortitude, strategic mindset and motivation to contend for the honor of finding a way to dampen the rage of this cancer.”