Taking the Sting Out of Brain Cancer

A new drug treatment uses scorpion venom to find tumors.

By Virginia Hughes|Friday, June 30, 2006
Containing more than 100 different toxins, the venom of the yellow Israeli scorpion makes it one of the most lethal creatures on earth. But now scientists are using this poison to save lives, by turning it into a treatment for a rare and deadly brain cancer.

High-grade brain glioma is diagnosed in 17,000 people a year—and kills 98 percent of them. The fast-growing tumors are removed surgically, if possible, or treated with radiation therapy, which doesn't discriminate between healthy and cancerous cells.

The poison, on the other hand, contains a protein that will seek out and bind only to brain cancer cells. To make an injectable drug, scientists working at biotech company TransMolecular, Inc. have recently combined a synthetic version of the venom protein—to search for the tumors—with a radioactive substance that selectively kills the tumor cells.

The drug is now being tested in clinical trials, and so far, has effectively slowed tumor growth without causing any adverse reactions.

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