When doctors can’t tell which cells are tumor cells and which cells are healthy brain tissue, it can cause a problem. Either the surgery leaves some tumor cells, which could continue to multiply, or healthy brain tissue is removed, which can result in neurological problems. But doctors may have found a way to improve their odds- by painting the tumor cells!

Tumor Paint is a two-part molecule; one part is a protein called a chlorotoxin that attaches itself to chloride channels on the surface of a tumor cell, and the other part is a dye that fluoresces under near-infrared light. The theory is that if you inject Tumor Paint into a patient’s bloodstream, it will eventually migrate to the tumor, attach to the tumor cells, and then glow when doctors need to find exactly which cells are dangerous.

So how do animals play a role in this research? Well, in a couple of ways. First, the chlorotoxin in Tumor Paint was derived from scorpion venom. Second, researchers worked with dogs before moving into human trials to determine the likelihood of success. After promising results in canines, human trials are now underway at Cedars Sinai Medical Center! Right now, the study is aimed at proving that Tumor Paint is able to reach the brain tumor successfully. If all goes well, it’s possible that this could lead to more successful surgical outcomes.

Read more about this research here and here.

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