Two years ago when a 10 year-old chocolate Labrador retriever named Browning was diagnosed with a large cancerous tumor on her leg, the standard course of treatment would have been amputation. Lucky for Browning she was enrolled in a one-of-a-kind clinical trial at Washington State University where the venom from a scorpion saved her leg and her life.
One of the trickiest parts of undergoing surgery to remove a cancerous tumor is the possibility of leaving a few of the cancer cells behind. These cells can quickly multiply and regrow a tumor so in the veterinary world, amputation would have been the safest way to remove the sarcoma on Browning’s leg.
However, two years ago Dr. William Dernell DVM discovered that the fluorescent substance in the venom of the Deathstalker Scorpion latched onto malignant tumors and made them glow a bright green color. Dr. Dernell and his staff turned the venom into a paint that allowed surgeons to detect and remove all of the diseased tissue.
“The fluorescent substance prefers tumor cells over normal cells, allowing us to define the borders of where a tumor begins and where it ends,” Dernell said.
Dr. Dernell tested this theory on 28 dogs with cancer. Browning underwent surgery with the scorpion paint on her tumor and it saved her leg and her life. Today she is healthy and running around her home in Spokane, WA.
Other dogs in the study had similar amazing results. Hot Rod is a Pit bull mix who had skin cancer nodules and Whiskey; another Pit bull had two large mammary tumors. Both dogs are cancer free two years later.
Dr. Dernell’s study is now being expanded to help people with cancer. In September the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved trials in humans. Twenty-one people diagnosed with brain or spine tumors will be the first subjects.
“I predict that in a decade or so, surgeons will look back and say, ‘I can’t believe we used to remove tumors by only using our eyes, fingers and experience,’” said Dr. Dernell. “Those hidden deposits of 200 or so cancer cells? They won’t go undetected.”
To get more information about this clinical trial, go to the Washington State University research website.
Photo: Valerie Wiss, Washington State University
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