Here’s one for the Weird But Awesome file: Venom from the deathstalker species of scorpions has been found to prolong the lives of dogs with cancer.
The re-engineered molecule in the venom “latches onto malignant tumors, making the diseased tissue glow brightly and distinctly against normal tissues,” according to Washington State University (WSU) News. “Consequently, surgeons are better able to detect – and remove – cancerous cells while leaving healthy ones behind.”
WSU conducted a clinical trial in which 28 pet dogs with cancer received an injection of “tumor paint” made from the scorpion venom. It helped prolong the lives of at least three of the dogs – Browning, Whiskey and Hot Rod.
Browning, a 10-year-old Chocolate Lab (she’s on the left in the photo), had a large sarcoma on her leg. Using the tumor paint and an infrared camera, surgeons were easily able to see the cancerous cells, which glowed bright green. They successfully removed those specific cells instead of having to amputate Browning’s leg. Browning, a hunting dog, has already returned to her outdoor activities.
“The fluorescent substance prefers tumor cells over normal cells, allowing us to define the borders of where a tumor begins and where it ends,” William Dernell, professor and chair of WSU’s veterinary clinical sciences, told WSU News. “We’re always hearing about some new compound that targets tumors. From what we’ve seen, this one really does.”
When Whiskey, a Pit Bull mix (on the right in the photo), was diagnosed with two large mammary carcinonomas two years ago, her dog dad, Terry Dillon, signed her up for the clinical trial.
“I was afraid I’d have to have her euthanized, but then they told me about this tumor paint and how it might increase the odds of getting all the cancer out,” he told WSU News.
Whiskey had the carcinomas surgically removed and is now doing fine. She even likes to chase scorpions in her Arizona backyard.
The third dog, a Pit Bull mix named Hot Rod, also benefited from the tumor paint treatment after having skin cancer nodules removed at WSU.
In September, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved tumor paint for study in human trials.
“Many animal tumors resemble those that arise in humans so it only makes sense for the two groups to reap the benefits that tumor paint can provide during cancer surgery,” Dr. Jim Olson, the pediatric oncologist who developed tumor paint, told WSU News. “As WSU uses the technology to help dogs, the dogs provide information that’s applicable to human cancers.”
In a decade or so, Dr. Olson predicts, “surgeons will look back and say, ‘I can’t believe we used to remove tumors by only using our eyes, fingers and experience.’
“Those hidden deposits of 200 or so cancer cells? They won’t go undetected.”
Photo credit: Valorie Wiss, WSU Veterinary Clinical Sciences