New research has showed that scorpions can help in the fight against cancer.
The biggest success is “tumor paint,” a drug that attaches to cancer cells, lighting them up so it is easier for surgeons to operate successfully.
The paint was developed from chlorotoxin found in scorpion venom. The paint is currently being tested in clinical trials.
Tumor paint was developed after researchers had a patient who underwent brain tumor surgery which left much of the tumor behind because the surgeon thought it was normal brain and didn’t want to paralyze her.
When doctors discovered how much was left behind and the problem for the surgeon not being about to easily distinguish cancer from normal brain, they were committed to developing a technology that could light up cancer.
Researchers focused on the scorpion chlorotoxin. Chlorotoxin is thought to target the molecules present on brain tumor cells but not on brain cells.
During the study, a human tumor was grown on the back of a mouse. The toxin was connected to a fluorescent tag and injected into the mouse. A few hours later, the cancer was brightly glowing.
Unfortunately chlorotoxin is not able to also deliver chemotherapy drugs to tumors. A fair amount of it also goes to the liver and spleen. If a toxin is put on it, it would also wipe out those normal organs. The current research has identified a different molecule from a different organism that goes to cancer but considerably less to the liver and spleen. That molecule from a grasshopper is the foundation for future research.
In previous studies, tumor paint lit up a variety of cancers in dogs. Researchers also report that the tumor paint was present in nearly all cases of confirmed cancer and was absent in most cases where the pathologist determined that the skin lesion was not cancer.
More research is necessary to further develop tumor paint, but researchers are hopeful.