Using Scorpion Venom to Treat Cancer

by Christopher Paul on June 30, 2014

Just going by the title, you might think scientists are looking at using toxins found in scorpion venom to kill cancel cells. In fact, they’re using one compound — called chlorotoxin — to give cancer cells a fluorescent green glow when exposed to ultraviolet light. Glowing cancer cells are much easier to spot so surgeons can remove more tumor cells than through traditional MRIs. The discovery alone is amazing but the story of Dr. Jim Olsen and his use of crowdfunding to move it through trials is a worthy read:

…Olson’s audience stays rapt as he goes on to describe a decade-long quest to solve one of the most vexing problems in oncology: the fact that a tumor’s precise boundaries are nearly impossible to define during surgery. A preoperative MRI provides only a rough guide to a tumor’s fuzzy edges; the scans often miss slivers of cancer that seamlessly blend into the surrounding tissue. Surgeons often face a brutal catch-22: Either cut out any suspicious tissue, an approach that can lead to debilitating side effects, or risk leaving behind malignant cells that will eventually kill the patient.

…His laboratory at the renowned Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, located just down the road by Seattle’s Lake Union, has developed a compound that appears to pinpoint all of the malignant cells in a patient’s body. It gives those cells a bright fluorescent sheen, so that surgeons can easily spot them in the operating room. Olson calls the product Tumor Paint, and it comes with a surprising twist: The compound’s main ingredient is a molecule that is found in the stinger of Leiurus quinquestriatus, a potent little animal more popularly known as the deathstalker scorpion.

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The poison is modified to carry a florescent compound which is injected into the patient before surgery. Cancer cells have a receptor that healthy cells don’t and the chlorotoxin binds to it and releases the dye into the cancerous cell for illumination during the procedure.

An amazing discovery that, if it gets past trials, will be another weapon in the war against our body’s self destruction.

Wired via Longreads

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