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Scorpion-Derived Peptide Lights Up Brain Tumors

(Andrey Barsukov, Pixabay)

10 May 2019. Results from a clinical trial show a peptide derived from scorpion venom illuminates brain tumor cells making removal of the tumors easier for surgeons. Results of the trial appear in yesterday’s issue of the journal Neurosurgery (paid subscription required).

The trial is testing the product code-named BLZ-100 made by Blaze Biosystems Inc. in Seattle, a spin-off enterprise from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Seattle Children’s Hospital. Earlier research at the Hutchinson center studied optides — short for optimized peptides — engineered protein molecules that more precisely target cancer cells than most of today’s chemotherapy drugs. BLZ-100 refines the optide technology into what the company calls tumor paint, to illuminate tumor cells for easier removal by surgeons.

BLZ-100 combines optides with a fluorescent dye, emitting light in the near-infrared range. Its tumor-painting capability is based on a peptide variant called chlorotoxin, originally derived from scorpion venom, which in its natural state has been shown to bind to some tumors. Treatments with BLZ-100 are expected to provide high-resolution visualization of cancer cells during surgery, making possible more precise and complete removal.

The clinical trial recruited 17 individuals with gliomas, affecting glial cells in the brain that account for about one-third of all brain tumors. Glial cells surround and support the signaling functions of nerve cells in the brain. The standard treatment for gliomas today is surgery to remove the tumor, which must be done carefully to prevent damaging vital brain functions. As a result, surgery often leaves behind cancer cells that allow the tumor to return.

The early-stage trial, held at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and NEWRO Foundation in Brisbane, Australia, looked primarily at the safety of BLZ-100 in the 17 participants scheduled for surgery.. The patients received a single dose of BLZ-100, of 3 to 30 milligrams, given from 3 to 29 hours before their procedures. The study team from Blaze Biosystems and the hospitals then watched for any adverse effects from BLZ-100, but also reported on the treatment’s ability to illuminate tumor tissue with fluorescence signals both before and after removal by surgeons.

“With this fluorescence, you see the tumor so much clearer because it lights up like a Christmas tree,” says Adam Mamelak, director of Cedar-Sinai’s functional neurosurgery program and senior author of the paper in a Cedars-Sinai statement. The study team found fluorescence signals from both low- and high-grade glioma tumors, but with greater intensity from high-grade tumors, and from higher doses of BLZ-100. The researchers also found no adverse effects from BLZ-100 in the 30 days following treatments.

Science & Enterprise reported on Blaze Biosystems in September 2015 when it first began testing BLZ-100 in clinical trials. Since then, the company completed several early-stage studies with children and adults, and is now enrolling participants in a mid- and late-stage clinical trial of BLZ-100 and a companion imaging system, with central nervous system tumors in children.

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