Brain surgery is an extremely delicate matter, and complicated even further when performed on children with brain cancer. These cancer cells are difficult to discern from healthy cells during brain surgery and afterward may or may not still reside in the brain where they can continue to spread and cause damage.
On the other hand, removing too much brain tissue can have devastating and permanent effects on a child. Therefore, the ability to easily identify cancer cells in the brain could potentially save lives.
To this end, a researcher at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington in conjunction with Blaze Bioscience, has developed a new drug technology called “Tumor Paint” drug (BLZ-100). The drug has been in development and is now about to be tested in children with brain cancer for the first time.
“Tumor Paint has the potential to completely revolutionize surgical oncology,” said inventor Dr. Jim Olson, who is a pediatric neuro-oncologist at Seattle Children’s, a clinical researcher at Fred Hutch and co-founder of Blaze Bioscience.
“My patients inspired me to invent this technology, because for many, a complete surgical resection means the difference between life and death. It also means that some patients need only half as much radiation to their brain,” he said. “We began this work in my lab a decade ago and nothing is more rewarding than seeing this technology reach pediatric patients for the first time through the launch of this clinical trial.”
According to Fred Hutch, the drug acts as a “molecular flashlight” that finds and attaches to tumor cells, highlighting them to show surgeons what to remove. In addition to brain cancer cells, the paint also has been shown to work with prostate, breast, colon, skin and other cancers.
“In addition to potentially improving surgical outcomes, BLZ-100 has the added potential to greatly increase the quality of life for children by reducing treatment-related damage to the healthy brain,” said Dr. Sarah Leary, principal investigator of the trial and an oncologist at Seattle Children’s. “In the future, I think we’ll look back and wonder how these surgeries were ever done without the lights on,” she said.
In addition to his important work with “tumor paint”, Dr. Olson is conducting breakthrough research on nature-derived cancer treatments. Since 2013, Dr. Olson and colleagues at Fred Hutch have been working on “Project Violet”, which, according to a Fred Hutch news release, seeks to develop a fundamentally new class of anti-cancer compounds derived from scaffolds of nature – chemical templates from organisms such as violets, scorpions and sunflowers – to attack cancer cells while leaving healthy cells untouched.