Synthetic scorpion venom could sting glioma study suggests

In collaboration with the Press Association

A synthetic version of scorpion venom could one day be used to accurately target treatments to brain tumours without affecting surrounding tissue suggests a new study.

The early-stage clinical trial exploited the ability of a tiny protein fragment found originally in the venom of the giant yellow Israeli scorpion to bind to gliomas, a type of brain tumour.

The protein fragment or 'peptide,' known as TM-601, was used to deliver radioactive iodine to the tumour cells, as it has the unusual ability to pass through the blood-brain barrier that prevents most substances from reaching the brain.

TM-601 could be used to deliver chemotherapy directly to the cancer cells, said lead researcher Dr Adam Mameluk and indeed may also have anti-cancer properties itself.

"We're using the TM-601 primarily as a carrier to transport radioactive iodine to glioma cells, although there are data to suggest that it may also slow down the growth of tumour cells," he said

"If studies continue to confirm this, we may be able to use it in conjunction with other treatments, such as chemotherapy, because there may be a synergistic effect.

"In other words, TM-601's ability to impede cancer growth could allow us to reduce the dose of chemotherapy."

Early clinical trials have shown that TM-601 can be safely administered to glioma patients following surgery and larger clinical trials are now being planned.

"Treating brain cancers with radioactive scorpion venom sounds like science fiction," said Ed Yong, cancer information officer at Cancer Research UK.

"But this preliminary study shows that this approach is safe and has potential. Now, larger trials are needed to work out how effective it is.

"This study highlights the varied and ingenious approaches that scientists are using to improve cancer treatments."

The researchers, based at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre's Maxine Dunitz Neurosurgical Institute, also noted that TM-601 may be effective against other cancers.

The study is published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.