MAY 11, 2019 7:35 AM PDT

Using scorpion venom to see brain tumors

Here’s something you probably never thought you’d hear: scientists have figured out a way to use scorpion venom to improve brain tumor imaging.

The new technique was developed by researchers from Cedars-Sinai and sponsored by Blaze Bioscience, Inc., and showed that a synthetic form of scorpion venom has the ability to bind to tumor cells and light up malignant growths, making them easier to see. "With this fluorescence, you see the tumor so much clearer because it lights up like a Christmas tree," said Adam Mamelak, MD, senior author and investigator in the trial. The conclusions from the clinical trial were published recently in the journal Neurosurgery.

The technique utilizes a special high-sensitivity near-infrared camera and an imaging agent tozuleristide, or BLZ-100, which has the synthetic version of an amino acid compound from scorpion venom. By adding a dye to BLZ-100, the near-infrared camera can better see the forms of malignant brain tumors like gliomas, which are often deadly and require surgery. If approved by the FDA, this technique will allow neurosurgeons to see the boundaries between the tumor and healthy brain tissue, which means they will be able to better spare healthy tissue during surgery while still removing all of the tumor.

The clinical trial was comprised of 17 adult brain tumor patients, all of whom received differing amounts of the BLZ-100 imaging agent before surgery. The scientists found that despite the different doses administered, the majority of tumors fluoresced for both high- and low-grade gliomas. Additionally, patients did not experience any serious adverse responses to the treatment.

An amino acid found in scorpion venom could help neurosurgeons see brain tumors better. Photo: Pixabay

The significance of this technique lays in the ease of the technology. "For a surgeon, this seamless integration of fluorescence imaging into the surgical microscope is very appealing," Mamelak said, because it allows surgeons to use both normal and fluorescent vision during surgery all with just one camera. The researchers hope that the technique will be able to be used for tumors beyond gliomas, and another clinical trial has already begun.

"The technique in this study holds great promise not only for brain tumors but for many other cancer types in which we need to identify the margins of cancers," said Keith L. Black, MD, chair of the Department of Neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai. "The ultimate goal is to bring greater precision to the surgical care we provide to our patients."

Sources: Science Daily, Neurosurgery

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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