Beating brain tumours with a scorpion sting paint
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(Science Photo Library)
Brain surgery is one of the most delicate operations a surgeon can perform. But soon they could be able to paint tumours to make them easier to see – thanks to one of nature’s deadliest venoms. (WARNING: Contains graphic footage of medical procedures)
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Dealing with brain tumours can be tricky. Surgery is often the only way to remove the cancer, but the operations can be very difficult, requiring a steady hand and an expert eye to remove all of the tumour.

Dr Jim Olson, a paediatric oncologist and researcher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Seattle, has long been frustrated with the difficulties. He’s now helped develop a technique that could transform the way we fight tumours – all thanks to a scorpion’s sting.

Tumour Paint is a drug that attaches to tumour cells – and glows. This makes it a lot easier for surgeons to tell the difference between tumours and healthy cells. The paint is produced using peptides from the Deathstalker, a species of scorpion with a paralysing sting.

At the same time, Olson is pursuing other unconventional ways to tackle cancer. He set up Project Violet – named after a young cancer patient who donated her brain to science before dying – to raise money through crowdsourcing so that promising drugs spend less time in development.

Jim Olson spoke to BBC Future at SXSW Interactive in Austin Texas. 

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