FDA Approves Scorpion Venom-based Tumor Paint for Brain Tumor Clinical Trial

The scorpion venom-based Tumor Paint developed by Dr. Jim Olson and his scientific team continues to make headlines.  Last week, the FDA approved its use in new clinical trials for brain cancer patients.  The following is a report from KOMONews.com in Seattle.

SEATTLE, Wash. -- Deadly scorpion venom leads local doctors to cancer breakthrough.

Seattle-based Blaze Bioscience recently crossed an important milestone when it got the go ahead to begin clinical trials on humans for its tumor paint. 

The FDA gave its blessing to inject 21 brain cancer patients with the cancer detecting compound made from the venom of deathstalker scorpions.

Tumor paint allows surgeons to spot cancerous tissue during surgery because it becomes fluorescent under laser light. It's not intended to cure cancer, but it can help surgeons separate and remove malignant tumor away from non-cancerous tissue.

Blaze Bioscience founder and pediatric oncologist for Seattle Children's Hospital Dr. Jim Olson worked with researchers in a lab at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle to develop tumor paint.

It was spawned after a 17-year-old girl underwent a 17-hour surgery to remove a malignant tumor in her brain. Despite all the hard work, surgeons were unable to remove all the cancerous tissue because some with hidden behind perfectly normal brain tissue.

Olson and his team went to work and discovered a chlorotoxin found the venom of the deathstalker scorpion could attach itself to cancerous cells in rats.

"So when it binds to the cancer cell, it flips inside the cancer cell and makes them light up so the surgeon can see them in real time while they are operating," said Olson.  

Olson and his team created a synthetic version for tumor paint based on the DNA structure of the chlorotoxin in the venom.

The patient comes to the doctor and has an injection of tumor paint just prior to surgery. Olson says as soon as the surgeon opens up the cavity "they can see what is cancer what is not cancer."  Cancer tissue reflects green under a laser light. So far Tumor Paint has only been tested on lab rats and dogs that developed cancer.

"If the human data looks as good as the canine data, it will revolutionize cancer surgery," said Olson.

Just getting to the stage of clinical trial wasn't easy for Olson and Blaze Bioscience.  He made several requests for grants to research and develop Tumor Paint, but Olson says they were denied because the idea was "too ambitious" or "too speculative." Believers in Olson and Tumor Paint then took charge.

"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 said.

Blaze Bioscience will now begin recruiting patients the U.S. and Australia for it's clinical trial. The study should be concluded by the end of 2015.

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