The venom of the “death stalker” scorpion of North Africa and the Middle East, also called the most venomous scorpion known to man, may be the best friend to pets suffering from certain types of cancer. Death stalker venom contains a molecule can prolong the life of dogs inflicted with the deadly disease.
Whiskey, Hot Rod, and Browning developed malignant tumors. Their owners decided to enroll them in a clinical trial at Washington State University Veterinary School. The dogs, along with 25 other patients, were given intravenous injections of a chemical derived from the death stalker’s venom prior to surgery. The venomous chemical “paints” cancer cells so the cells will be become fluorescent. This makes the cancerous cells easier to distinguish from normal cells and allows veterinary surgeons to know the exact limits of the cancer and ensures removal of all cancer cells during surgery.
According to Pediatric oncologist Dr. Jim Olson, developer of the tumor paint, this is far superior to the present method of “taking wide margins” and hoping cancer cells do not get left behind. “I predict that in a decade or so, 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.”
Olson re engineered the molecule in the venom to latch on and identify cancer cells without causing the clinical symptoms associated with a scorpion sting. He uses the technique at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center to help people, but he says it is also a way to help the pets they love.
“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. As WSU uses the technology to help dogs, the dogs provide information that’s applicable to human cancer.”