Fighting cancer with a scorpion's sting
Cancer has become one of the Grim Reaper’s favorite tools for putting people’s lives to an end all over the world. So far, the traditional pharmaceutical industry has failed to come up with a proverbial ‘nuke’ in order to deal with the dreaded disease once and for all. Therefore, health scientists have started to expand their horizons in their quest for finding ways to fight it, thus discovering the use of a scorpion’s sting.
Problems with fighting cancer
One of the main reasons that curing cancer can be extremely problematic, is the fact that cancerous cells are often very hard to track down. Consequently, doctors may be able to successfully remove a tumor without actually curing a patient of the entire disease. Also, let’s not forget that cancer drugs are usually very aggressive, thus dealing with one health problem, but simultaneously at the cost of possibly causing new ones. Another major complication occurs while conducting surgery, since tumors don’t always show up clearly on x-rays. This creates a risk for surgeons to cause unnecessary damage to a patient’s body.
In order to deal with the latter, the America based Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (FHCRC) now intends to make use of scorpion venom in order to conduct surgery in a more efficient way. To be precise, they use what is called ‘BLZ-100 Tumor Paint’. This paint is produced using peptides from a species of scorpion with a paralyzing sting known as the Israeli death stalker. The drug is first injected into the bloodstream, after which it attaches to tumor cells while leaving healthy cells alone. It glows during the process (see picture below), hence enabling surgeons to tell the difference between tumors and healthy cells. Logically, this ability is especially important to have while dealing with brain tumors.
Tumor Paint was originally developed for treating pediatric brain cancer, but scientists have learned in the mean time that it has clinical applications for breast, colon, lung, prostate and skin cancer as well. It is expected that, provided that the paint does as well in humans as it does in animals, up to an astonishing million cancer patients a year could be helped.
Whereas scorpions use thousands of peptides to make a toxic venom, the single peptide used in Tumor Paint appears to have few side effects in humans and animals – and these are mild. BLZ-100 Tumor Paint was tested in 27 dogs with cancer at the Washington State University. The drug was well tolerated by the canine patients at doses that were effective for lighting up cancer. BLZ-100 Tumor Paint was tested in human skin cancer patients in Brisbane, Australia as well. No dose-limiting toxicity was observed at any of the five doses tested. Based on this safety data, the United States Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) has allowed trials to proceed in brain tumor patients in the US concurrently with Australia.
The scientific research to the use of scorpion venom for treating brain tumors has been conducted by the Olson Lab, which is part of the FHCRC. This lab identifies, prioritizes and advances therapeutics into clinical trials for children with brain cancer, with increasing focus on types of brain tumors that are uncommon and have the greatest need for translational research. They intend to increase the cure rate for children with these types of brain cancer by at least 10% due specifically to work done by their team. Head of the lab is pediatric oncologist Dr. Jim Olson.
Violet was an 11-year-old girl who had been diagnosed with brainstem glioma, a rare, deadly and insidious inoperable tumor. She understood that she could not win the unfair battle against the disease. However, she was also fully aware of the need for scientific research in order to be able to develop better treatments. That’s why, before her premature death in October 2012, she requested that her brain be donated to science in hopes that it would help doctors to create new and better treatment options so that the chances of survival for others may increase.
It is this incredibly generous girl after which Project Violet, an innovative research program developed by Dr. Olson and colleagues from multiple disciplines at the FHCRC, was named. The project’s mission consists of two components: to develop a new class of anti-cancer compounds from nature that will attack cancerous cells while leaving healthy cells untouched and to fund the development of these drugs via crowd funding. The earlier mentioned tumor paint is one of the successes Project Violet scientists have booked already.
Deaths caused by cancer are becoming more and more frequent and need to be stopped. And let’s face it, there is only so much one can do in order to prevent oneself from getting this horrible disease. Even if you don’t smoke, never drink and eat always healthy, there is absolutely no guarantee that you won’t get cancer. The one and only other way to fight the disease, is to get to know and understand it better. It’s time for mankind to stand up and fight as a one rather than leaving the battles up to the patients alone. In the past, we defeated many fatal diseases, the plague being one of the most notorious ones ever. Now, the time has come to add cancer to the list.
And although Violet will be unable to read this since she is no longer with us, I would like to finish this article with a few final words for her: may your incredibly brave and noble soul rest in everlasting peace, little girl.
Special thanks to Dr. Jim Olson
© 2015 Victor Brenntice