Scorpion venom used in breakthrough brain tumor imaging technology

cancer diagnosisCancer diagnosis and tumor resection is a challenging feat for neurosurgeons especially when dealing with invasive tumors such as Gliomas. These tumors have irregular borders and characteristically possess ‘tentacles’ which invade the surrounding normal tissue making it hard to determine its borders, and in turn more difficult to resect.

In Cedars-Sinai Maxine Dunitz Neurosurgical Institute and Department of Neurosurgery, researchers have devised a low cost and compact imaging method for detection of brain tumors and other cancers.

This new tumor imaging technology involves the use of ‘chlorotoxin’, which is a substance first isolated from the venom of the yellow Israeli scorpion. Its synthesized form was proven to be effective and, contrary to its name, is nontoxic. For over a decade, the substance has been the subject of studies headed by Dr. Adam Mamelak, a co-author of the article and professor of neurosurgery and director of functional neurosurgery. This imaging agent, called the Tumor Paint BLZ-100, a product of Blaze Bioscience Inc., targets tumor cells and binds to them. Once stimulated by a laser which is near the infrared part of the spectrum, it ‘lights up’ the tumor cells. The glow that it emits is invisible to the human eye and can only be viewed using the device’s camera.

Research scientist and assistant professor in the Department of Neurosurgery, Dr. Pramod Butte MBBS, who is the article’s first author, explained the process of the imaging method. According to Brutte, the modality involves two stages, the first one is the deployment or the attachment of the dye to the target tumor tissue, and the next is the use of a laser and a specialized camera to capture the images which are otherwise invisible.

In the process, the chlorotoxin is made to bind with a near-infrared dye, indocyanine green. The combination of these two components, the Tumor Paint BLZ-100, is then injected intravenously. The dye, which spares normal tissue and targets cancer cells only, effectively stains the tumor cells making them identifiable when a near-infrared laser was shone on the tissue.

Dr. David Roberts from the Section of Neurosurgery at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College said in an editorial for the journal article, that the research by Cenars-Sinai opened a promising path which “fluorescence-guided surgery” may take. Furthermore, he stated that Butte and colleagues have successfully proven the feasibility of the new modality through their animal models. To help yourself with such kind of problem you can search pain fellowship personal statement.

Currently, the health informatics researchers are working on making the device more portable without sacrificing its image quality. “We hope that eventually the camera can be transported in a small bag”, Butte said.

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