FDA Approves Study of Scorpion-Derived 'Tumor Paint' for Brain Cancer Patients

Paint can light up cancerous cells during surgery.

ByGILLIAN MOHNEY
September 27, 2014, 5:06 PM

— -- Seattle cancer researchers are hoping that they will be able to use scorpion venom to fight deadly brain cancer through a new product called "Tumor Paint."

For the first time, the Food and Drug Administration has approved the product, developed by Blaze Bioscience, for study in human trials in the U.S.

During the phase one trial, the tumor paint will be used to on an estimated 21 people with a glioma, or tumor in the brain or spine.

In theory the "paint" will light up the tumor with special florescent molecules that will allow surgeons to then remove cancerous tissue more effectively and safely.

The tumor paint is created by utilizing a protein derived from the paralyzing venom of an Israeli deathstalker scorpion. The re-engineered protein, which binds to cancer cells, is then joined with a fluorescent molecule "flashlight" that has been used safely in human surgeries for decades.

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The product was developed by Dr. Jim Olsen, a brain cancer specialist at Seattle Children's Hospital and a professor at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

"It's really hard to get molecules into the brain due to the blood-brain barrier," Olson told ABCNews.com last year, describing the membrane around blood vessels in the brain designed to keep out toxins. "Most drugs that are made by the drug companies can't penetrate that barrier. The scorpion has found a way to get these proteins in the brain."

In earlier canine trials, Olson said the paint was able to reveal small amounts of cancer cells that would be nearly impossible to identify with the human eye, sometimes it helped locate just a few hundred cancer cells.

In an interview with ABC News affiliate KOMO-TV in Seattle, Olson thanked his patients for helping him develop the product after his lab was initially denied funding to look into the production of tumor paint.

"Through bake sales and golf tournaments and chili cook-offs, they raised 8 million dollars and that funded the early discovery work that allowed Tumor Paint to get FDA approval for human trials this week," Olson told KOMO-TV.

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