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Cancer Therapy with Radioactive Scorpion Venom 115

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the suzie-morphs-into-a-stinkbug dept.
BostonBTS writes "Researchers from TransMolecular, Inc. have used chlorotoxin -- a component of giant yellow scorpion venom -- to target radioactive treatments for the deadly brain cancer glioma. From the article: 'In the study, 18 patients first had surgery to remove malignant gliomas, a lethal kind of brain tumor. Then doctors injected their brains with a solution of radioactive iodine and TM-601, the synthetic protein. The solution bound almost exclusively to leftover tumor cells, suggesting that it could be combined with chemotherapy to fight cancer. Furthermore, two study patients were still alive nearly three years after the treatment.' Their paper is slated for publication in the August issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology."
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Cancer Therapy with Radioactive Scorpion Venom

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  • by macadamia_harold (947445) on Monday July 31, 2006 @11:43PM (#15822645) Homepage
    Researchers from TransMolecular, Inc. have used chlorotoxin -- a component of giant yellow scorpion venom -- to target radioactive treatments for the deadly brain cancer glioma.

    Just so long as they remember, "With great power comes great responsibility."
  • Cool (Score:2, Funny)

    by Eightyford (893696)
    Well that sounds like a pretty cool movie. Is Bryan Singer directing?
    • Well that sounds like a pretty cool movie. Is Bryan Singer directing?
      <sigh> As always, one man's Troll is another man's Funny. C'mon mods, lighten up.
  • Two out of 18... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by A Nun Must Cow Herd (963630) on Monday July 31, 2006 @11:45PM (#15822655)
    "Furthermore, two study patients were still alive nearly three years after the treatment"... but what would the expected number of survivors be for a group that wasn't treated with this solution?

    They almost make it sound like the patients survived the treatment.

    • Re:Two out of 18... (Score:5, Informative)

      by DoubleRing (908390) on Monday July 31, 2006 @11:50PM (#15822693)
      but what would the expected number of survivors be for a group that wasn't treated with this solution?

      RTFA:

      Because life expectancy for the 14,000 annual glioma patients in the United States is typically a matter of months, the results shore up animal research indicating that the venom protein may inhibit tumor growth even without a radioactive component, Mamelak said.
      • by Alfred, Lord Tennyso (975342) on Tuesday August 01, 2006 @12:04AM (#15822769)
        I'm not sure that answers the question. Many die within months, but we're talking about only 2 out of 18 to make it three years. Curves have tails, and knowing that the mean is only a few months doesn't tell us how many would be expected to live for 3 years.

        The Journal of Neuroscience [64.233.161.104] (google cache, the site appears to be down) says that "more than half die within 18 months". Presumably that's with standard treatment. If half were to die every 18 months, that would still leave 1/4 of the patients, around 4, after two years.

        I'm sure that's not the right curve to draw; Wikipedia says "few patients survive beyond three years". Is "few" more or less than 2 out of 18? Probably less, but I'm still not at all clear on whether this treatment is actually better than the standard treatment.
        • Exactly. And even if 2 survivors at three years is atypical for traditional treatment methods, how much does it really say given that the test group was so small?
        • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Tuesday August 01, 2006 @02:05AM (#15823184)
          but I'm still not at all clear on whether this treatment is actually better than the standard treatment.

          The problem with the "standard treatment" is it usually involves surgery. The Glial cells are the support and structure cells for the actual brain cells. To the naked eye, the cancerous cells (Glioma) are undistinguishable from normal cells (like sugar and salt mixed in a bowl - for multiforme), though an MRI can differentiate.

          Any surgery also removes healthy Glial and brain cells (which do not regenerate) and the patient's functionality degrades. All it takes is one remaining Glioma cell and the process starts again.

          Some people cannot, or choose not to, have surgery. As I posted earlier, my wife died in January of a GBM, just 7 weeks after diagnosis. She declined as it was next to her brain stem and would have left her completely paralyzed on her left side and blind in the left side of each eye. Surgery may have prolonged her life a bit, but it wouldn't have been the life she loved.

          Hopefully, treatments like this will reduce the need for surgery at some point.

          • My truly sincere condolences on your loss..

            A very good friend of mine was recently diagnosed with inoperable, multi-tumor stomach cancer.. life can really be a bitch.
          • My sympathy as well --- I lost a girlfriend to a GBM some years ago.
            • My sympathy as well --- I lost a girlfriend to a GBM some years ago.

              Thank you, and I'm sorry for your loss as well. The /. crowd has been (generally) very compassionate in their responses to the relevant posts I've made over the months. You and I share an experience no one should have to endure. I'm not saying that there aren't more tragic events out there, but, well, you know...

          • I feel your pain as well. Last December, my Grandfather's three year fight with two types of lung cancer, stomach cancer and three others ended.
          • by bracher (33965)
            ummm....

            "In the study, 18 patients first had surgery to remove malignant gliomas".

            So, they had the standard surgical treatment, and _then_ the radioactive venom. Alfred's question remains unanswered... How does 2/18 at 3 years differ from the survival rate for just the surgical procedure?
            • So, they had the standard surgical treatment, and _then_ the radioactive venom. Alfred's question remains unanswered... How does 2/18 at 3 years differ from the survival rate for just the surgical procedure?

              Not much, (though the stats for GBM patients with treatment is basically 2 / 12,500 after 3 years, so 2/18 is better) but you can't get enrolled in studies like this without first having standard treatment first. The priority is saving lives (well trying to), then furthering research.

              For all practi

          • Fahrbot, sorry for your loss, my Uncle had surgery in 1989 and was able to stay with us for 10 months.
        • I think 2 out of 18 is much. Glioblastoma is one of the most aggressive type of cancer. The glia cells in the brain just grow and grow and grow constantly at an amzing speed. Removing the tumor itself doesn't help at all as the cancer cell grows through the surrounding brain tissues, it spreads all over the brain. It will grow back within weeks. Believe me, I've seen it myself. My mother did live almost a year after diagnosis, which is long for this kind of cancer.
        • If you read the study, this study focuses on those who have failed conventional treatment, as is the case with most Phase I trials.

          These poor folks have no other choice but to pursue experimental therapy - otherwise their expected survival rate is MUCH less than what would occur in the normal population.

          In addition, Phase I trials are NOT designed to measure efficacy - they are designed to measure safety. Phase II & III trials will be able to determine prospectively efficacy of treatment versus con
      • You're probably aware that your quote doesn't answer the question. Not only is "a matter of months" vague enough to be unenlightening, but it also gives no indication of the distribution. Let me rephrase the question to see if that helps:
        How unusual would it be for there to be two survivors at three years without using this new treatment?
        • by darkonc (47285)
          Granted, with a sample size of 18, it's not absolutely sure that the treatment was responsible, but even with a good sized tail, 2/18 patients lasting 3 years is enough to make it worthwhile funding another study.... At absolute worst this treatment did the patients little, if any harm (statistically speaking).

          "So let me get this straight: My choice is to die within months from this aggressive cancer, or let you inject me with scorpion venom?"
          "yep".
          "this reminds me of a George Carlin joke: '"Well Jim,

          • by Threni (635302)
            > Granted, with a sample size of 18, it's not absolutely sure that the treatment was responsible, but
            > even with a good sized tail, 2/18 patients lasting 3 years is enough to make it worthwhile funding
            > another study....

            No. You've still not answered the question. If 2 patients lasting 3 years is what you'd expect to happen without treatment then there would be very little point in funding that study at the expense of another study which showed that 2 patients lasted 3 years where normally they'd
            • by darkonc (47285)
              OK: let's be blunt.
              with an average survival time in months, one person lasting 3 years would be good. 2 people lasting 3 years means either
              1) this study group got really lucky or,
              2) This method is really, really promising.
              with bets on #2.

              I think that somebody posted that the 3 year survival rate is something like 3%, so this 10% survival rate is unusually high -- but possibly skewed by the sample size. This also depends on the patient group.... Young patients (rare) have a higher survival rate (u

      • animal research indicating that the venom protein may inhibit tumor growth even without a radioactive component, Mamelak said.

        So, would that mean, if a glioma patient has of chosen to see a shaman witch doctor (note, probably too much redundancy in the last three words), who stung him with a yellow scorpion, might live longer than a patient in a similar condition under going western treatment. Depending on how healthy the patient and the ability of the shaman to administer a non-lethal dose, or maybe the

      • Re:Two out of 18... (Score:5, Informative)

        by LordLucless (582312) on Tuesday August 01, 2006 @03:03AM (#15823325)
        Also note that what they were performing isn't actually designed to destroy the cancer. They mixed this venom-derivative with a dye, and it targetted the cells correctly. When they actually use it properly, they're going to be mixing the targetting agent with something a lot more effective than an iodine dye. The 2 out of 18 thing is not an evaluation of the therapy, its noting an anomoly which a researcher presents a possible explanation for (the targetting agent itself inhibits cancerous growth). That possible explanation has neither been proved, nor is the point of this research.
      • Total survival for a glioblastoma is around 9 percent for three years, but this is three years survival after treatment; 2 out of 18 is already a little better (probably not significant with an n of 18), but it's a selected population. In any case, gliomas are such nasty beasts that any hope is good news.
    • From the article...:
      "The solution bound almost exclusively to leftover tumor cells, suggesting that it could be combined with chemotherapy to fight cancer. Furthermore, two study patients were still alive nearly three years after the treatment. Because life expectancy for the 14,000 annual glioma patients in the United States is typically a matter of months, the results shore up animal research indicating that the venom protein may inhibit tumor growth even without a radioactive component"
    • Re:Two out of 18... (Score:2, Informative)

      by bruins01 (992422)
      2 out of 18 is actually very good for this kind of cancer. The survival rate after three years is about 3%. 11% would be a step in the right direction, but 2/18 is way too small a sample size to really draw conclusions. It is one of the most aggressive cancers of all.
    • My mother had this stuff and she lasted three weeks after the surgery. Living past a year is pretty rare, and living past two is abberrant. Mind you, I wouldn't want to live three days with this stuff unless it was caught hella early. It's an ugly form of an ugly disease.
    • First of all, it sounds like from the article that we're talking about high-grade gliomas (like glioblastoma multiforme) here. Typical survival is 5% after 5 years. Median survival time with best available treatment was 14 months 50 years ago. Now it's about 19 months and many people argue that it's because we're diagnosing gliomas earlier.

      In short, this looks very promising but we're a long way from any sort of clinically relavent treatment.
  • SHUDDER (Score:3, Funny)

    by Eightyford (893696) on Monday July 31, 2006 @11:47PM (#15822669) Homepage
    Giant yellow Israeli scorpions live in the deserts of the Middle East and grow to about 4 inches long.
    So why are people fighting over land in that part of the world?
  • by EnsilZah (575600) <EnsilZah@NospAM.Gmail.com> on Monday July 31, 2006 @11:47PM (#15822671)
    Where do we find a vault-dweller to hunt some of those rad scorpions for us?
  • by XanC (644172) on Monday July 31, 2006 @11:50PM (#15822691)
    <servo>Sign me up for that!<servo>
  • I don't know about all those high-falutin' "science" guys, but any Fallout players worthy of the title were already familiar with the interesting medical properties of radioactive scorpion venom way back in the 90s. Yet another case of Slashdot being late with the news...
  • Do these people not know of the risks that they're taking? Look at what happened to The Scorpion! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Scorpion [wikipedia.org]
  • PA prediction? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Napalm Boy (17015)
    Radioactive [penny-arcade.com] scorpions [penny-arcade.com]?

    It's been done.
  • ... obligatory Spiderman joke here.
    • Scorpion Man, Scorpion Man
      Does whatever a scorpion can
      He's got acid to dissolve, the guts of thieves with resolve
      Look out! Here comes the Scorpion Man.

      Can he sting? Listen, Bud, he's got radioactive blood
      Can his pincers grab you fast?
      Can you say "You bet yer ass"?
      Hey there! There goes the Scorpion Man.

      KFG
  • I can understand the priciples behind this kind of treatment. Scorpion poison is a heom-nureo toxin (means that it attacks blood and nerve cells) that targets both braches of cancer cells, blood supplies and nerve connections for continued growth. An added benefit is that scorpion venom is relativly safe to humans. In all but the rarest cases that involved serious allergic reactions and death, scorpion sting victims expericed a large welp and severe pain, something like a VERY LARGE bee sting. The part
    • Can you answer this one for me. They're talking about using this in conjunction with chemotherapy, which is notoriously toxic to the body. However, the scorpion venom will have spectral absorbtion properties totally unlike anything in the brain, which means that if you tune a microwave to that unique frequency, it'll cook the cancer cells in the vicinity of the venom and will leave the rest of the brain completely untouched.

      It would seem, at first glance, that this tagging mechanism would be ideal for treat

      • You make an excellent point about tuning microwaves to the frequency of the venom to cook cancer cells, but there are just to many variables here for it to even be considered, not now anyway. First of all, the way a microwave oven works is to induce heat by adding electrons to fatty cells, that's why meat gets warmer faster than bread. Doctors wouldn't go for this due to the fact they could scramble brains even with only a few seconds exposure. Second of all, microwaves experience the same problems as la
      • The basic idea of chemotherapy is to carefully administer poison. Enough to kill off the tumor. Not enough to kill off the patient.

        Having gone through treatment for lymphoma (MALT), not bad (for me personally) but has to depend on individual reactions.
        I kept the hair on top of my head but lost my eyebrows and eyelashes.
    • Radioactive tagging is kinda standard anytime you want to be able to determine where the chemical goes or what it reacts with. And how much.
      The tagging is NOT going to assist anything chemically (otherwise it would be east to separate U235 from natural uranium). If the targeted cells have a large affinity for some unusual chemical, then a radioactive version of that chemical will deliver a concentrated dose. If nothing else has an affinity for it, then nothing else will be much bothered. The ideal is some e
    • The important thing is to find a protein that latches on the the cancer cells and not normal cells. There are many proteins out there for the different kinds of cancer. For this brain cancer, it appears that they have found such a protein. They will probably 'tag' the protein with radioactive (beta or beta/gamma emitters, not alphas like uranium) iodine (I-131 or I-128) or yittrium (Y-90) or phosphorous (P-32) (depending on the chemistry and the dose required). They will not use heavy metals like Uraniu
  • More treatments (Score:5, Informative)

    by lawpoop (604919) on Tuesday August 01, 2006 @12:10AM (#15822811) Homepage Journal
    Hey folks -- take an honest listen for a moment. I don't want to come off as a new-age hippie, but honestly, the amazon rain forest has millions of poisonous bugs that we currently know nothing about. If you take a trip into the jungle and are a bug-watcher like I am, chances are you will see dozens of insects that currently aren't recognized by science.

    The amazon jungle is full of life, and it's all practically poisonous plants and insects. Think about it -- the biggest predator in the jungle is man, and jaguars are a close second, coming in at about 70 pounds. All of the biomass in the jungle is bound up in plants and insects. There has been no downtime in the evolution of living things in the jungle for the past several million years. There is no winter, no dead non-metabolising topsoil -- animals and plants just eating and mating and reproducings generation after generation. The ethnobotanist Mark Plotkin says that the jungle is chemical warfare that has been going on for millions of years.

    When I was on an excursion in the jungle of Ecuador, I decided to take a small hike during some downtime in the program. Foolishly I wore only sandals on my feet. Not 15 minutes down the trail, I felt dozens of ants biting my foot. Panicked, I reached down to brush them all off, but there was only three or four ants on my foot! When they bit into my skin, I didn't feel anything, but moments later, I would feel several bites in different places on my foot.

    So my long-winded point is that there are millions of potential cancer cures out there, all kinds of medications and interesting chemicals. All of the chemical defenses plants and animals evolve work by interrupting or changing the normal cellular functioning of living organisms. The difference between medicine and poison is a question of dosage, as Plotkin paraphrased Paracelsus. We really need to work hard to make sure that this incredible resource stays around for future research. I don't know specifically what you and I can do, but awareness is the first step.
    • I agree with you wholeheartedly. The jungle truly is God's laboratory.

      I'd also like to tank you for reinforcing a long-standing theory of mine: The only people who call the jungle a rain forest are the people who've never had to spend a night in it. :)
    • Re:More treatments (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Unc-70 (975866)
      The trouble with this concept is that its a difficult process. The structures of chemicals from natural sources may be extremely complex, more so than is possible to produce on a large scale. The following links are from a blog by a professional medicinal chemist, who has a lot of experience in the area and offer a good deal of insight into the process of deriving a drug from natural sources.
      1 http://pipeline.corante.com/archives/2006/04/26/ju ngle_rot.php [corante.com]
      2 http://pipeline.corante.com/archives/2006/04/3 [corante.com]
    • by Anonymous Coward
      So my long-winded point is that there (in tropical forest) are millions of potential cancer cures out there...
      And millions of potential nasty new diseases. Better safe than sorry - I say we nuke'em.
      • Nah, new diseases mostly arise in places where lots and lots of infectible humans live together (syphilis, smallpox), or infectible humans live together with lots and lots of the same species of infectible animal (plague, bird flu). The exceptions (HIV, Kufu) tend to come when humans do really weird shit (and for pretty much the same underlying reasons).
    • I see what you are saying. Chop down all the trees, and we have access to a huge range of medicines and drugs... what are we waiting for. I ll get my axe and meet you in Brazil.
    • It was not that long ago I read a scary sounding article that suggested that at least one promising research project, I think it was involving garlic, was cancelled because you cannot patent garlic. Now I can't find the link, and I have no idea how reliable the article was at any rate (maybe somebody else has seen it), but it does sound plausible that the large research companies might not be as interested in investigating the natural world if natural materials could not be "owned and controlled" and via p
    • You failed to mention fungus. There are at least 15 million species of fungus and we know only a smattering about a few of them. The rain forests are devoured by the fungus.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Side effects can include nausea, diarrhea, dizziness, and turning into a Marvel supervillian.
  • by JavaNPerl (70318) * on Tuesday August 01, 2006 @12:20AM (#15822849)
    Patient: Doc I'm still in terrible pain, is there anything else you can do for my cancer?
    Doctor (whispers): Nurse. What do we have to euthanize this patient and put him out of his misery?
    Nurse (whispers): We got some radioactive scorpion venom, that should be quick.
    Doctor: 100 CCs of radioactive scorpion venom, stat!
    -NURSE INJECTS VENOM-
    Patient: I feel better.
    Doctor & Nurse in unison: Holy Sh*t!

  • without your radiation suit ..or invulnerability. That works too.
  • Just great. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Tuesday August 01, 2006 @01:28AM (#15823078)
    This is just great, sigh. My wife died from Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM) in January, just 7 weeks after diagnosis in November. The average life expectancy for GBM (grade IV Glioma) patients is 4 to 18 months. Only a handful of the 14,000 / year live past 24 months. I hope this proves effective and saves many, many lives.

    My world, however, will remain dark.
    Remember Sue...

    • My sympathies, truly. Let's hope few others have to go through that pain.
    • While you may not realise this - you were lucky. Your wife however was not.

      My wife also died of a brain tumour (Glioma but not GBM). She survived for 10 years. 6 of those 10 years were very difficult for me because I had to provide 100% supervision.

      Mind you my wife did reasonably well for the first 3-4 years. She finished uni and my son was born and now he has graduated with distinction. Nevertheless I had the tripple duty of providing for my family, looking after her and running my business and I did
      • Since your wife's illness was quick - you probably don't know the stress that comes with years of having to look after a person who looks relatively heathy but is totally disabled.

        While I cannot begin to realize what you and your wife had to endure, I did get a glimpse of this over the 7 weeks from diagnosis to death. Susan's Solu-Medrol dosage was 160mg / day (40mg x 4) which was high enough to require it be given IV. She had a PIC line and I administered it every 6 hours along with the other (oral) me

  • Captain Murphy: Come on, come on, what are you waiting for?! Daddy needs his medicine.

  • by obiwanjabroni (619615) on Tuesday August 01, 2006 @04:07AM (#15823495)
    Howdy,

    The effectiveness of chlorotoxin in treatment of glioblastomas was discovered by a scientist here at my institution (http://www.neurobiology.uab.edu/Faculty/Sontheime r/Sontheimer.htm [uab.edu]). Glioblastoma is hypothesized to be so deadly because of the ability of cancer cells inside the brain to quickly migrate from the primary site to other sites within the brain, quickly invading normal brain tissue. This makes surgery or radiation not very effective, since migrating cells may be hidden within normal brain that is not irradiated or cut out. The migratory ability of glioblastoma cells is related to its unique ability to change size and morphology to move in between normal brain cells.

    The size-changing migratory ability is related to a specific chloride ion channel that expresses highly and uniquely on certain brain cancer cells, including gliomas (PubMed ID: 8804043, 8967454). Chlorotoxin, a chloride channel inhibitor discovered in 1993 (PubMed ID: 8383429) was more interestingly found to bind to this glioma-specific chloride ion channel in mice in 1998 (PubMed ID: 9809993) and humans in 2002 (PubMed ID: 12112367). Although it was shown that chlorotoxin failed to inhibit migratory ability due to size-change, chlorotoxin was shown to inhibit migration by inhibition of another protein involved in breaking down the extracellular matrix, allowing cells to more easily migrate.

    The strategy that TransMolecular uses to treat gliomas lies in the specificity of expression of the channel to which chlorotoxin binds. That channel is expressed on the vast majority of glioma tissue samples tested, and only rarely on normal tissue. If one attaches a weak or short-lasting radioactive moiety to chlorotoxin, a potential treatment can be to target glioma cells using chlorotoxin, and then kill them by short-lasting localized radiation. This strategy is already being used in Non Hodgkins Lymphoma and other diseases by attaching to tumor- targeting antibodies a radioactive iodine atom.
  • I for one welcome our radioactive Scor... save us Spidey, save us.
  • Upon injection, the Scorpion [wikipedia.org] molecules each seek out tumor cells, whip tiny hooked protein chains at them, and shout "GET OVER HERE!" while violently yanking them out of the brain tissue.
  • And they will call him "Scorpio"; he who fights crime one sting at a time.
  • Ok they say 2 out of the 18 patients were still alive after 2 years? that means 16 died from their cancer, so how is this study any good?

    I mean if they said that 13 of the 18 patient still lived then it would suggest a real breakthrough and a valid treatment but come on, two out of 18 is 11% success, that hardly counts.

  • And I suppose that this is administered by dogs with bees in their mouth and when they bark, they shoot bees at you?
  • The female test subjects who went on to bear children jealously kept their offspring on their backs as they foraged for proteins in the forest.
  • "Furthermore, two study patients were still alive nearly three years after the treatment."

    You could also interpret this as "furthermore, sixteen study patients died within three years of treatment"... ;)

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