death scorpion


We always discuss the way bugs and pests interfere in our daily lives and how to rid ourselves of them.  Now there is a good reason for us to sort of like a very deadly type of scorpion - the Israeli Deathstalker Scorpion could one day save the lives of cancer patients.

They have eight legs, sharp pincers, and tails that deliver an excruciating sting. But the venom from the Israeli Deathstalker Scorpion could one day save the lives of cancer patients.

It sounds a lot like science fiction, but a promising new drug may revolutionize the way doctors see and remove cancer tumors.

It’s a medical breakthrough happening in Seattle, Wash. The drug has been used on even the youngest cancer patients, including 3-year-old Hunter Coffman.  Laura Coffman says “He’s feisty.  Hunter is the type of person that if he loves you, you’ll know because you can’t force Hunter to give you kisses or high-fives fist bumps”.

Hunter is strong because he is a cancer survivor. He was barely two when doctors found a tumor in his brain. Before he underwent surgery, Seattle Children’s Hospital offered a treatment involving an experimental drug inspired by the Deathstalker Scorpion.

The Deathstalker Scorpion has a bad reputation. It’s a creepy crawler with a talent for torture. Its sting is severe and its poisonous venom can be deadly. The drug is the brainchild of Dr. Jim Olson. He is a determined pediatric neuro-oncologist at Seattle Children’s Hospital and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Olson says his inspiration was a 16-year-old girl.  “We had a 16-year-old with an aggressive brain tumor. The surgeons spent all day and into the evening working on removing that tumor from her brain. The surgeons thought they had taken out all the cancer, but we saw a big piece of cancer left behind,” said Dr. Jim Olson.

The problem is cancer cells don’t look all that different from healthy cells.

If you take out too little tissue, the patient still has cancer. If you take out too many brain cells, you remove parts of the brain that help you think, feel, and move your body. “That day we decided to come up with a way to make cancer light up so surgeons could see exactly what was cancer and what’s normal brain,” said Olson.

The key to Olson’s drug is a molecule found in the Deathstalker venom.  If you combine it with a dye that glows, you have something that Olson calls “tumor paint.”

He says if you inject tumor paint into a patient’s vein, it finds its way to the tumor. It allows doctors to pinpoint the cancer with a bull’s-eye, making it easier to remove.

“I wanted something that would be a visual cue to the surgeons, at the time that they’re operating,” Olson explained.  Olson says the scorpion venom is synthetically reproduced, so you don’t need to send him any of the scorpions you may find in your backyard.

Olson’s hope is that his invention may help with all types of cancer tumors.

“That’s what we hope it will mean, that more children and more adults with cancer survive because the surgeons were able to take out more cancer,” he explained.

Testing is underway, but so far, the drug, which is in clinical trials, has helped 80 kids like Hunter battle brain cancer.

According to Seattle Children’s Hospital, there have been no major side effects. Olson hopes to have the drug approved by the FDA by 2019.

It is wonderful to see the DNA from a scorpion can help science – perhaps there are more bugs or pests that one day can be helpful as well.

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