Brain tumors affect 1 in 150 men and 1 in 185 women in the United States. These abnormal growths, whether benign or malignant, can cause life-threatening consequences without prompt and successful intervention.
A conventional approach to addressing brain tumors is through surgical removal – a meticulous and critical endeavor. Brain tumors have an infiltrative nature, meaning they can extend into or reside near healthy areas of the brain. Moreover, tumors can develop in hard-to-reach regions, further complicating treatment. Superior surgical skills and precision are necessary during brain tumor removals to protect healthy brain tissue and maximize treatment efficacy.
Fortunately, hoping to aid brain surgeons is a fascinating and innovative discovery: using scorpion venom to illuminate brain tumors.
What Is Scorpion Venom?
Scorpion venom, a potent and complex mixture of bioactive compounds, has garnered attention for its potential medical applications. Beyond its reputation as a harmful toxin, scorpion venom contains peptides and proteins that exhibit diverse biological activities. These components have evolved over millions of years to assist the poisonous species in subduing prey and defending against predators.
Now, envision an operating room, where areas within a patient’s body begin to glow. This futuristic, out-of-a-sci-fi-movie scenario can revolutionize tumor detection, and scorpion venom is the main component of this technology.
This advancement, known as Tumor Paint Technology, is of particular significance in the context of brain tumors, particularly gliomas. A glioma bears close resemblances to healthy brain tissue called glial cells. The ability to differentiate tumor cells from normal brain cells with enhanced clarity can do wonders in improving surgical outcomes and patient prognosis.
What Is Tumor Paint Technology?
Blaze Bioscience, Inc. is tasked with the responsibility of developing this “glowing technology.” In 2020, the company announced that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had approved fast-track designation for their clinical trials on pediatric brain and spinal cord tumors. These trials involve a method where the tumors emit a luminous glow when observed through a particular camera system.
“Tumor Paint,” a drug also known as tozuleristide or BLZ-100, is the brainchild of Dr. Jim Olson, a renowned pediatric brain cancer specialist affiliated with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center located in Seattle, Washington.
“My work is driven by an urgency to make a difference in patients’ lives, and all of these projects are directed at that goal,” quotes Dr. Olson.
How Does Tumor Paint Work?
To illuminate tumors, a specialist must inject an experimental substance derived from scorpion venom into a patient’s vein, allowing it to cross the blood-brain barrier and reach a brain tumor. After shining a near-infrared light onto the area, a tumor coated with BLZ-100 will emit a distinct glow. This breakthrough is invaluable for identifying a brain tumor’s exact location and boundaries.
Progression of Clinical Trials on Tumor Paint
2013: Early Beginnings
Initial results showed promising outcomes, prompting the drug’s furtherance from animal to human trials in 2013. Clinical research focused on adult gliomas began at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California. Researchers from Australia also conducted a parallel study.
2015: Phase I
In June 2015, a significant development took place. Seattle Children’s Hospital, which hosts the largest Brain Tumor Program in the United States, began screening participants for a pediatric clinical trial of BLZ-100. Gateway for Cancer Research sponsored the program. The researchers aimed to improve tumor detection and removal, reduce damage to healthy brain cells, and mitigate any long-term side effects.
The Phase 1 trial, conducted under an open FDA Investigational New Drug (IND) application, enrolled individuals under the age of 30, all of whom had brain tumors. The primary objectives were complete tumor removal or the excision of recurrent or residual tumors.
2018: Phase II
The Phase I trial for pediatric brain cancer patients concluded in 2018, demonstrating the safety of tozuleristide during surgery. Following this successful completion, Phase II commenced at Seattle Children’s Hospital in collaboration with surgeons from nine hospitals across the United States. This stage focused on assessing the effectiveness of Tumor Paint in fluorescing brain tumor tissue compared to healthy brain cells.
If approved, Tumor Paint can help millions of patients around the world, highlighting its potential to improve the medical landscape and patient prognosis.
Noteworthy Insights on Scorpion Venom for Brain Tumor Identification
Though the development of Tumor Paint Technology is exhilarating, some experts, including Dr. Arno Fried, founder of Advanced Neurosurgery Associates (ANA), believe that the ideal future of cancer treatments should explore alternatives to surgery. Many consider surgery a “crude” or primitive technique for tumor elimination. Nonetheless, as surgery remains the standard treatment, using scorpion venom to light up brain tumors is a valuable technique for enhancing surgical accuracy.
Alternative Therapies for Brain Tumors
The invasive nature of conventional treatments for brain tumors paved the way for the growing interest in alternative treatment options. While surgery is often necessary to remove tumors and alleviate symptoms, it can involve risks and side effects. The delicate nature of the brain, with its intricate neural networks and vital functions, makes any invasive procedure a complicated undertaking. As a result, patients and healthcare professionals alike have begun to explore and consider alternative treatments that can minimize invasiveness. The goal is to strike a balance between effective tumor management and reducing the impact on a patient’s quality of life.
Choose a Strong Ally in the Fight Against Brain Tumors
When a brain tumor develops or recurs, individuals and their healthcare providers may consider exploring alternative treatment options, such as those offered here at New Hope Unlimited. With a focus on innovative and holistic approaches to healthcare, we stand as a leading provider of alternative therapies and comprehensive treatment options that go beyond conventional surgical methods.
Consider New Hope as your partner in the journey toward managing brain tumors. Contact us to schedule a consultation. Our experienced cancer care specialists are ready to discuss your unique needs, answer your questions, and explore the best treatment options tailored to your specific situation. Together, we can navigate the complexities of brain tumor management and strive for the best possible outcomes.
- Lighting Up Brain Tumor Tissue. (n.d.). Seattle Children’s Hospital. https://www.seattlechildrens.org/about/stories/lighting-up-brain-tumor-tissue/
- Tumor Paint Approved for First U.S. Trial. (2014, September 25). Fred Hutch. https://www.fredhutch.org/en/news/center-news/2014/09/tumor-paint-US-trial.html
Holford M, Daly M, King GF, Norton RS. Venoms to the Rescue. Science. 2018 Aug 31;361(6405):842-844. doi: 10.1126/science.aau7761. PMID: 30166472.