Illuminating brain tumors with scorpion toxins could save lives

 

Illuminating brain tumors with scorpion toxins could save lives

Illuminating brain tumors with scorpion toxins could save lives

Up until now, removing brain tumors has been a fairly imprecise – and thus highly dangerous -art. Cancerous tissue in the brain looks almost exactly like healthy tissue, and being just one millimeter off is enough to permanently affect a patient’s quality of life. Plus, it’s almost impossible to tell if any post-surgery neurological damage is from the tumor or the surgery itself. Jim Olson, a pediatric neuro-oncologist, looked to an unlikely source to solve the problem: scorpion toxins.

For reasons still not fully understood, injected toxins from a scorpion’s sting will only bind to cancerous tissue and, as an added bonus, have the relatively rare ability to cross the blood-brain barrier. By creating a synthetic version of this toxin and binding it to molecules that glow in near-infrared light, tumors can be set aglow and, hopefully, save a lot of healthy brain tissue in the process. With a glowing tumor, surgeons would finally be able to identify cancerous cells with relative ease, making it far easier to avoid healthy tissue.