Scorpion venom lethal to cancer

By Archive • Published: May 27th, 2013
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Imagine a doctor injecting the venom of a deadly scorpion into a patient’s brain. Sound like the plot from a horror movie? It’s actually an important new breakthrough in treating brain cancer.

Here’s the back story: One of the most promising treatments for brain tumors is the use of gene therapy, the insertion of genes into an individual’s cells or biological tissue to fight diseases, such as cancer. Using this approach, the cancerous cells can be told to slow down or even kill themselves.

But one of the biggest drawbacks is the difficulty in delivering the genes to cancerous cells. Because viruses are typically used as carriers, there is sometimes a risk of side effects to the patient.

Enter the Deathstalker Scorpion. Also called the Palestine Yellow Scorpion, it packs a painful sting and can be fatal to the elderly or small children. However, the scorpion’s venom carries a substance that bonds well with cancer cells, so they came up with an experiment.

They combined the substance, called chlorotoxin, with iron oxide nanoparticles and some identifying DNA to see if the cells absorbed the DNA. The result? In tests on mice, they found the venom-based nanoparticles delivered nearly twice as much DNA into the brain cancer cells as nanoparticles without the venom.

That’s exciting news because brain cancer, or glioma, is one of the deadliest forms of the disease. Scientists have high hopes for the Deathstalker venom. They are also experimenting with the substance in the treatment of prostate cancer and melanoma.

Who knows? Maybe they’ll change the scorpion’s name from “Deathstalker” to “Lifesaver” someday.