Tumor paint: scorpion toxin highlights brain tumors

A compound from scorpion venom can help neurosurgeons see the difference between healthy and cancerous brain tissue that may be left behind after surgery.
Written by Janet Fang, Contributor

To differentiate between healthy and cancerous brain tissue, neurosurgeons are turning to a compound derived from a toxin in scorpion venom. Technology Review reports.

Sometimes when cancer patients undergo brain surgery, left behind are pieces of the tumor, which can look just like healthy brain tissue.

Previous research has reported that a particular scorpion toxin can bind to brain tumors and not healthy cells. Additionally, that chlorotoxin can cross the blood-brain barrier – the barricade that lines blood vessels in the brain, preventing most compounds from entering.

By linking a synthetic version of this protein to a molecule that glows in near-infrared light, the researchers think they may have found what they call “tumor paint.”

Jim Olson at Seattle Children’s Hospital and colleagues tested this by injecting the compound into the tail vein of a mouse with a transplanted human tumor. “Within 15 to 20 minutes, the tumor started to glow, bright and distinct from the rest of the mouse,” Olson says.

In other animal studies, the tumor paint also lit up cancer outside of the brain, suggesting it could work for prostate, colon, breast, and other tumors.

Though it comes from venom, the compound seems safe to use. Seattle-based Blaze Bioscience has licensed the technology, and human trials will begin late in 2013.

A 3-minute film called Bringing Light – a finalist at the Sundance Film Festival – talks about the compound’s potential to save healthy brain tissue, improving patients’ lives. You can watch it here.

[Via Technology Review]

Image by Charles & Clint via Flicker

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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