Offbeat

Can Scorpion Venom Slow the Spread of Brain Cancer?

Research recently conducted by the University of Washington has revealed that the combination of nanoparticles and a scorpion venom compound, which is already under investigation as a treatment for brain cancer, can cut the spread of cancerous cells by as much as 98 percent. Scorpion venom alone works as well but at almost half the above-mentioned scale (45 percent).

The use of chlorotoxin, a small peptide extracted from scorpion venom, is nothing new. For more than a decade it has been used to both target and treat cancer cells. According to Miqin Zhang, professor of materials science and engineering and lead author of the study published in the journal, Small (ANI):

“People talk about the treatment being more effective with nanoparticles but they don’t know how much, maybe 5 percent or 10 percent. This was quite a surprise to us.”

The chlorotoxin works by binding to a surface protein present in many types of deadly tumors, including brain cancer. Simply put, the nanoparticle-chlorotoxin combination disables the cell’s surface machinery, which would otherwise permit it to change shape.

Like an alien form adapting to another environment, this process permits tumor cells to slip through the body. It slows down the ability of the cancerous cell to penetrate the protective matrix surrounding the cell and travel to a different area of the body to start a new cancer.

The same group of researchers in the recent past combined chlorotoxin with nanometer-scale particles of iron oxide. At that size, the compound fluoresces, making it ideal for magnetic resonance and optical imaging.

According once again to Zhang, the study involved mouse brain-cancer cells that were grown in the lab. Significant findings included the discovery that cells containing the nanoparticle-chlorotoxin combination were unable to elongate whereas those containing only the nanoparticles could stretch out. Future experiments will also involve mice but other researchers are currently conducting human trials using chlorotoxin to slow the deadly spread of cancer.

It is well known that adding nanoparticles often improves a therapy partly because whatever it is combined with lasts longer in the body and has a better chance of reaching the tumor. The clumping of therapeutic molecules around each nanoparticle also boosts its effect on the affected area. What is highly significant in this study is the fact that it represents the very first time nanoparticles have been combined with a therapy that STOPS the spread of cancer.

This study offers much hope on the horizon for treating highly invasive tumors such as brain cancer, and possibly others as well, including those affecting breasts, lungs, prostate and ovaries.

Will we see an end to cancer in our lifetimes?

They say all things are possible and with researchers like Zhang on its tail, who can say?

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