Scorpion treatment used to battle cancer

Scorpion treatment used to battle cancer (WKRC)

CINCINNATI (WKRC) - In the fight against cancer, an unlikely ally emerged.

Local researchers said a new cancer tracker is showing promise in beating and potentially treating this disease.

The amazing part, however, is the unique place it was discovered. The source is scorpion venom.

It's part of trials right now at a few research centers around the country. It's not in use here yet, but cancer oncologists at the UC College of Pharmacy shared how this someday, could change our lives.

Researchers exploring this option for potential use said, "It really has the potential to very much change how we do care."

Dr. Rowena Schwartz, who goes by Moe, specializes in pharmacy in cancer research. While she's not using this new tool yet, she said it could be a big breakthrough for use soon.

"The excitement of it is that it's a way to identify tumor tissue separate from healthy tissue," said Dr. Schwartz.

It is a potential new way to find cancer cells that don't show up on other imaging. Researchers are now testing a molecule found in the venom of the death stalker scorpion. When combined with a dye that glows, it is injected into a patient with cancer, it works like tumor paint.

This helps doctors to see only the cancerous cells, and leaves the healthy ones alone. While nobody's quite sure why it works this way, researchers can only speculate why the cancer becomes visible.

"I think it's because a chemo toxin was identified was bound to the cancer tissue, and not to normal cells," Dr. Schwartz said.

That visibility means you can find it in surgery and when you remove the cells, Dr Schwartz added, "You know that you have resected all that is there that is tumor tissue."

While still in the research phases right now, mainly in brain cancer, Dr. Schwartz said it has potential for use in a lot of other cancers too.

"To take a venom from a scorpion and synthetically make it without the poison and then hook it to something that can be florescent under a laser light, means that then you can visualize it," she said.

And what they can see, they often treat successfully. Or maybe find out if that treatment isn't needed at all.

She continued, "As we learn more about cancer cells and the difference between non-cancer cells, it gives you potential targets for treatment and in this case targets for visualization. And I think that's one of the most exciting things that's going on in cancer."

There is no word yet on when the results of these trials could lead to more widespread use of this tumor paint.

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