Researchers from Seattle recently announced that they already developed a new technology that utilizes beneficial characteristics of scorpion venom. It could help surgeons to identify and eradicate harmful cancer cells in the brain. The “tumor paint” technology is developed by a brain cancer researcher, Dr. Jim Olson, from the Seattle Children’s Hospital. Dr. Olson said that after undergoing millions of years of evolution, scorpions have venom that can influence the brain to paralyze victims. The “tumor paint” is based on a protein extracted from the venom of Israeli Deathstalker scorpion. The protein is re-engineered to bind cancer cells and it’s combined with fluorescent molecules that can act as “flashlight”. The protein locates cancer cells and binds with them, making them glow brilliantly.
During preclinical tests, “tumor paints” can accurately locate cancer cells in mice and dogs. Olson claimed that that the paint can detect very small amount of cancer cells, under one thousand cells that would otherwise extremely difficult to detect with current tools. Tests involving human trials should start immediately, both in Australia and the United States.
Blood-brain barrier can make it really difficult to get specific molecules into the brain cells, because membranes on blood vessels within our brain always keep out toxins. Many drugs produced by pharmaceutical companies can’t sufficiently penetrate the barrier. However, scorpion venom contains specific protein that can directly get in the brain.
Olson said that the tumor paint technology can be especially useful as real time detection tool, instead of MRI images obtained from previous scans. Other than brain tumors, the tumor paint could also be used to highlight cancer cells on the skin, colon and breast.
Actually, the tumor paint project is just a part of the mush larger project. His current effort is to gather more proteins derived from sources in nature for medical purposes. The Project Violet focuses on identifying and re-engineering any nature-based protein for uses in medical treatments. Nature already finds way to get specific molecules into any part of our body and this characteristic can be used to enhance the effectiveness of current drugs.
People can contribute to the Project Violet by “adopting” a molecule for just $100. When people adopt a molecule, they essentially choose the type of protein and cell they want to be joined, essentially creating a fresh molecule for further study. The money goes toward creating a new molecule and then the lab would study it for possible uses in medical treatments.