Tumor paint: Lighting up the path to removing cancer

Removing a tumor from the brain is one of the most challenging operations a surgeon can perform. Typically, they rely on MRI images to guide them to the right spot. But, now there is a new way to light up cancer—and the process has given patients like Keaton Wrenn a new lease on life.

He reads at a fifth grade level, but mom Lisa says this third grader's movements are less developed compared to most kids his age.

"His walking was always really wobbly,” said Lisa.

When Keaton was just 16 months-old, doctors found a golf ball-sized tumor in his brain. Oncologist Jim Olson says removing a tumor like Keaton's is tricky because normal tissue looks resembles cancerous tissue.

"You can end up leaving big chunks of cancer behind,” said Olson, of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

Olson developed a "tumor paint" to help surgeons see cancer while they operate. The paint is made from re-engineered scorpion venom. It is injected into the bloodstream a day before surgery. Surgeons use a special instrument to see the paint in real-time.

"It brings a light molecule to the cancer, so the cancer cells light up,” added Olson.

The tumor paint has been used in mice and dogs and is a thousand times more sensitive than MRI scans.

Lisa says the research is exciting. Keaton had the traditional surgery, and today is cancer-free.

"He's been through so much, and he just takes it all in stride,” she said.

In the preclinical trials, the tumor paint also lit up prostate, colon, and breast cancers. Doctors say it may also be used to detect various forms of skin cancer.
Olson says he expects human trials to begin in early 2014.

Medical breakthroughs
Research summary

Topic: "painting" keaton's tumor
Report: mb #3709

Background: brain tumors are defined as masses of cells that grow in the brain tissue or in systems around the brain. Some brain tumors are malignant, meaning they are cancerous and contain cancer cells, while others are benign, meaning they are noncancerous. Procedures for removing brain tumors are some of the most complicated forms of surgery. This is because cancer cells may be left behind and can go unnoticed. Treatment options vary depending on the size and location of the tumor. (source: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/brain-tumor/ds00281)

Symptoms: each patient is different, but symptoms can include:

* speech difficulties
* behavior changes
* pattern of headaches
* issues hearing
* severe headaches
* problems with balance
* nausea or vomiting
* vision problems
* seizures
* loss of sensation in an arm or leg. (source: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/brain-tumor/ds00281/dsection=symptoms)

Types of brain tumors: primary brain tumors are tumors that derive in the brain or tissue surrounding it. Other places where tumors may form are in cranial nerves, brain-covering membranes, the pineal gland, or pituitary gland. These tumors develop when abnormal cells build up in the brain, creating a large mass. Secondary tumors are ones that are formed elsewhere in the body, and then spread to the brain. Secondary (metastatic) brain tumors are much more common than primary tumors. Common cancer types that may eventually spread to the brain are colon cancer, melanoma, kidney cancer, breast cancer, and lung cancer. (source: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/brain-tumor/ds00281/dsection=causes)
Tumor paint: a new method for removing brain tumors has emerged. Dr. Olson is using scorpion venom to highlight cancer cells in the brain. To remove the brain tumors, doctors will first scan the brain in an mri to find the exact location and size of the tumor. Once a patient has decided on surgery, they are then injected with the scorpion venom a day before the procedure. The paint consists of chlorotoxin, which is a protein that attaches to chloride channels on cell surfaces. The second component of the tumor paint is a dye that lights up once a light is projected upon it. (source: http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2013/09/12/221060071/why-painting-tumors-could-make-brain-surgeons-better)
For more information, please contact:

Kristen lidke woodward
Science communications editor
Communications & marketing
Fred hutchinson cancer research center
(206) 667-5095

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