A Moment of Science

Scorpion Venom for Tumors

Is there a way to use scorpion venom to help fight brain cancer?

an Israeli

Photo: Ester Inbar

The scorpion is an Israeli scorpion, sometimes called the Death Stalker.

How would you like the venom of one of the world’s deadliest scorpions inside your brain?

Your answer is probably a resounding no.

Understandable, but if you had a brain glioma, a cancer which is deadly in and of itself, you might feel differently. Gliomas present a special treatment dilemma because chemotherapy will destroy healthy brain cells as well as the cancerous ones. Thus, this kind of brain cancer is currently untreatable.

Here is where the scorpion venom comes in. The scorpion is an Israeli scorpion, sometimes called the Death Stalker.

You could say it’s a nicely apt name insofar as research involving its venom is amounting to a treatment that stalks deadly glioma cells, and destroys them. The scorpion’s venom contains the neurotoxin called chlorotoxin, which specifically targets glioma cells, leaving healthy cells unharmed.

Scientists have engineered a synthetic version of chlorotoxin, and they’ve attached it to a radioactive substance, samporin. The synthetic chlorotoxin ensures that the samporin is delivered directly to tumor cells. The result is a chemotherapy which appears to effectively destroy brain cancer cells without harming the surrounding healthy cells. The drug is now in clinical trials.

This may not be all the scorpion’s venom is good for. Researchers are investigating its potential as a treatment for diabetes too.

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