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Radioactive scorpion venom for fighting cancer

Health physicists are establishing safe procedures for a promising experimental brain-cancer therapy which uses a radioactive version of a protein found in scorpion venom. For many, this will conjure images of Spiderman's nemesis, the Scorpion. The purpose of this work is not science fiction, but rather to help to develop a promising new therapy for brain cancer. The venom of the yellow Israeli scorpion preferentially attaches to the cells of a type of essentially incurable brain cancers known as gliomas.

Responding to this urgent problem, scientists at the Transmolecular Corporation in Cambridge, Massachusetts created a radioactive version of this scorpion venom. Called TM-601, it contains an artificial version of the venom protein, attached to a radioactive substance called iodine-131 (I-131). When it enters the bloodstream, the compound attaches to the glioma cells, then the I-131 releases radiation that kills the cell.

This compound has enabled an experimental treatment for high-grade gliomas, found in 17,000 people in the US every year and usually causing death in the first year of diagnosis. Patients would simply be injected with the compound in an outpatientprocedure, without needing chemotherapy or traditional radiotherapy. The first, early human trials of the venom therapy showed promising signs for treating the tumor and prolonging survival rates for patients.

At the Health Physics Society meeting this week in Providence, Rhode Island, Alan M. Jackson of the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit will report that he and his colleagues recently established safe procedures for the therapy, currently in the second sequence of phase-II human trials, which involve higher doses of radiation than the earliest trials.

"The health physicist has the duty to ensure to ensure that these therapies are conducted both legally and safely," Jackson says. "Obviously, a key objective is to bring these patients home and
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Source:Health Physics Society


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