Brain surgery is perhaps the most delicate of intrusive surgical procedures.
The brain, for the most part, all looks alike–unlike the internal workings of a hip or heart.
The idiom “it’s not brain surgery” is founded on the simple fact that brain surgery is immensely complex and dangerous.
One wrong move and…anything can result. It’s a very daunting task.
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Often when science looks deeply into nature, we find incredible organisms, chemistries, systems, and connections that are infinitely intricate yet somehow simple. In this vein, a neurosurgeon in Seattle has found an unusual use for venom in the treatment of cancer.
Reading all the types of surgery that are typically performed to treat a tumor on the brain is very intimidating; it sounds like a simple listing of the benefits of eating spinach. But the implications are tremendous.
One site numbered the brain surgeries in the U.S. at twenty million per year. That seems like quite a lot. According to the American Brain Tumor Association’s site:
“Surgery may be recommended to:
- Provide a tumor sample to establish an accurate diagnosis.
- Remove as much tumor as possible, either to relieve symptoms caused by the tumor itself or to reduce the amount of tumor to be treated with radiation or chemotherapy.
- Enable direct access for chemotherapy, radiation implants, or genetic treatment of malignant tumors.
- Relieve seizures (due to a brain tumor) that are hard to control.”
How interesting that the only courses of treatment considered for brain tumors are surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. There is a section on alternative and integrative medicine but it tells us to do our own research. More about that later.
Poison That can Actually Help us
James Olson, MD, PhD is a pediatric oncologist at the Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. He has been instrumental in developing a substance that can help neurosurgeons to clearly see tumors, facilitating more successful surgeries–and healthier patients.
The substance is based on scorpion venom which, when applied to tissue, sticks to cancer cells. Under a combination of infrared and white light, the chemical glows, making clear the difference between healthy and cancerous tissue.
The compound has been named “Tumor Paint” and has been successfully tested on dogs and mice for various cancers, including those of the pancreas, breast, skin, and brain. Human trials have just begun.
Dr. Olson’s idea for this began while he was still in medical school; for his PhD thesis, he helped develop a radioactive chemical that illuminates brain cancers for PET (positron emission tomography) scans.
Earlier Detection Possible
The active ingredient in “Tumor Paint” is an amino acid existing in the venom of the deathstalker scorpion (nice name!). It has the characteristic of blocking electrical impulses and binding to certain proteins.
Why this is so exciting is that, because the substance binds to every cancerous cell, a scan can see much smaller tumors, catching them earlier. Applied during surgery, the cancers, no matter how small, become visible in a very short time.
Phase 1 trial of “Tumor Paint” in Humans is Underway in Australia on Three Forms of Skin Cancer.
The incidence of brain cancer has increased over the years from 1975 to the present, with the average number of new cases rising from 5.85 per 100,000 Americans in 1975 to 6.47 in 2011 with the majority of cases occurring in White males and the fewest in African-American women. Not a huge jump statistically, unless you are the additional one.
We learn from Nature all the time. Even a deathstalker can offer us another chance at life.