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Scorpions deployed in cancer battle

Venom holds hope for sufferers

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A protein found in scorpion venom could lead to a new treatment for a particularly aggressive type of of brain cancer, according to new research.

Doctors have shown that a synthetic version of the protein attacks cancerous cells, but leaves normal brain matter untouched.

The study tracked the progress of 18 people who had had malignant gliomal tumours, a fatal form of cancer, removed from their brains. Their doctors then injected their brains with a solution containing a synthesised version of a protein found in the venom of the giant yellow Israeli scorpion, and radioactive iodine.

The life expectancy of people with this kind of cancer is usually a matter of months. However, two of the volunteers in the experiment were still alive almost three years later, Reuters reports.

The protein binds almost exclusively to cancerous cells. The researchers say that combined with chemotherapy it could be used to fight the disease. Animal research suggests that even without the radioactive component, the protein TM-601 could work to inhibit tumor growth on its own.

"Does that mean that the drug was miraculous? No," said Dr Adam Mamelak, a neurosurgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. "But we have shown that it is safe and that we should at least move forward."

The findings were reported in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. ®

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