This is a story of three dogs and a scorpion. Browning, Whiskey, and Hot Rod are all family pets who suffered from different forms of cancer. The scorpion—or to be more precise the scorpion’s venom—helped cure them.
For reasons still not clearly understood, an optide known as chlorotoxin, originally derived from the venom of an Israeli deathstalker scorpion and now synthesized in the lab, has the ability to bind and internalize within cancer cells. When combined with florescent dye and injected into the blood stream, chlorotoxin, or Tumor Paint as it is now called, lights up tumors brightly to distinguish them from surrounding healthy tissue. That is a big deal, because tumors are tough to see during surgery. Even better, when using PerkinElmer’s new Solaris™ open-air florescence imaging system, those tumors display in real time on large monitors under normal lighting conditions right there in the surgical suite.
What does that mean for our three canine friends? How about being the poster pups for “lucky dog of the year!” Each of the canines received the Tumor Paint treatment that lit up their tumors bright orange for surgical removal as part of a pre-clinical trial at Washington State University (WSU) College of Veterinary Medicine. In the case of Browning, a 10-year-old chocolate Lab, successful surgery to remove a large sarcoma saved her leg from amputation. Hot Rod, a pit-bull mix, had cancerous nodules removed. Whiskey, another pit-bull mix, had two large mammary carcinomas removed, saving her from euthanasia. She is now reportedly chasing scorpions of her own in the Arizona desert.
“I’ve even seen her draw them into her mouth,” her owner says. “I don’t know how in the world she does it… or why.”
Dr. Jim Olson, a pediatric oncologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, WA, and creator of Tumor Paint, explains that there are many similarities between animal and human cancers. “As WSU uses the technology to help dogs, the dogs provide information that’s applicable to human cancers.” In fact, it was Olson who first approached WSU with the idea for the pre-clinical trials five years ago. Those tests proved so successful, WSU is now planning another round of Tumor Paint and Solaris trials, this time to help some of the hospital’s feline patients. Purrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrfect!