Glowing “Tumor Paint” Innovation in Brain Tumor Identification

Recently, a story broke on tumor paint, an experimental substance derived from scorpion venom. This paint is injected into a patient’s vein, and it actually crosses the blood-brain barrier, finding its way to a brain tumor. Doctors then shine a near-infrared light on a tumor coated with tumor paint, and the tumor glows. This is a revolutionary way to determine the precise location of the tumor, which is notoriously complicated to scope for exact size and location.tumor paint identification

Officials with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) expanded approval to enroll patients from infants to young adults in a clinical trial of the Blaze Bioscience drug BLZ-100, which is known as Tumor Paint. The paint was created by Dr. Jim Olson, a pediatric brain-cancer expert at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington.

The paint is made from two chemicals. The first is chlorotoxin, a protein derived from scorpion venom, which targets the chloride receptors on the surface of tumor cells. The protein carries a second, non-toxic chemical that makes the cells fluoresce when they are exposed to near-infrared light.

Tests at this early stage are designed to make sure that the paint works as it should, and initial results have been promising. In fact, animal studies proved effective enough to advance BLZ-100 to human clinical trials more than a year ago. Trials are now under way in the U.S. at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. The Cedars-Sinai study focuses on adult glioma, and a duplicate study is running in Australia.

In June 2015, it was announced that Seattle Children’s Hospital (site of the largest Brain Tumor Program in the nation) has opened enrollment for a pediatric clinical trial of BLZ-100 (Tumor Paint) as well. Funded by Gateway for Cancer Research, this clinical trial aims to improve the detection and removal of solid tumors without harming the surrounding healthy tissue that can lead to serious long-term side effects.

The Phase 1 trial is being conducted under an open U.S. FDA Investigational New Drug (IND) application. It is open to anyone under the age of 30 who has been diagnosed with a brain tumor and plans to undergo surgery at Seattle Children’s Hospital, either in an attempt to remove an entire brain tumor or to have a recurrent or residual tumor removed. The trial will enroll up to 27 patients over the next two years.

Despite this clearly exciting development, surgeons such as Dr. Arno Fried, founder of Advanced Neurosurgery Associates (ANA), and others believe the ideal medical future explores treatments other than surgery. Surgery is still considered a “crude” technique to eliminate tumors, as one researcher said. But as long as it reigns as the standard treatment, tumor paint is yet another method that could further surgical precision.