Local doctor hopes to use scorpion venom to 'light up' cancer cells

Local doctor hopes to use scorpion venom to 'light up' cancer cells »Play Video
SEATTLE -- A local doctor is "lighting up" cancer cells hiding in the body. He calls it "tumor painting".

The source of his paint? The venom of scorpions.

The vial of blue liquid spent millions of years evolving before it reached Dr. Jim Olson's lab. "They are "Deathstalker" scorpions.

"We let them do the work for us," Olson said.

In their venom, a harmless molecule that can find tumors in humans.

"For most tumors, there's really difficult regions where the tumor looks just like regular brain; it's the same color same consistency," Olson said.

Olson's lab at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center cooked up a cancer finding cocktail they call tumor paint.

Tumor paint sticks to cancer cells, and under a special light, it glows, telling surgeons exactly where healthy brain stops and the tumor begins. It's 500 times better than an MRI.

"This would be a quantum leap for kids who have brain cancer (and) for adults who have any number of other kinds cancer," Olson said.

Maggie Dice is one of those children. The tumor paint may not be available for years. But Maggie's family wants to make sure it's available if she or anyone needs it.

So, when no one would give Olson a research grant, saying the idea of "tumor paint" was too speculative, they stepped in.

"Everywhere we can, we try to put money his way," said Maggie's mom Kirsty Dice. "So he can focus on the research and not have to go out and find the money."

Parents of Olson's patients raised millions.

"We're a big wonderful family," Olson said.

And they the hope what's in that blue vial, millions of years, and millions of dollars in the making, pays off as powerful cancer fighter for many families.