'Tumor paint' helps surgeons see cancer during operations

FRESNO, Calif.

Keaton Wrenn reads at a fifth grade level, but his mom Lisa says this third grader's movements aren't as developed as most kids his age.

"His walking was always pretty really wobbly," Lisa Owen Wrenn, Keaton's mom, told ABC30.

When Keaton was just 16 months, doctors found a golf ball sized tumor in his brain. Oncologist Jim Olson says removing a tumor like Keaton's is tricky because normal tissue looks just like cancerous tissue.

"You can end up leaving big chunks of cancer behind," Jim Olson, MD, PhD, Oncologist, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, told ABC30.

Olson developed a tumor paint to help surgeons see cancer while they operate. The paint is made from reengineered scorpion venom. It's injected into the bloodstream a day before surgery. Surgeons use a special instrument to see the paint in real-time.

"It brings a light molecule to the cancer, so the cancer cells light up," Dr. Olson explained.

The tumor paint has been used in mice and dogs and is a thousand times more sensitive than MRI scans.

Lisa says the research is exciting. Keaton had the traditional surgery, and today is cancer free.

"He's been through so much, and he just takes it all in stride," Lisa said.

In the preclinical trials, the tumor paint also lit up prostate, colon, and breast cancers. Doctors say it may also be used to detect various forms of skin cancer. Olson says he expects human trials to begin in early 2014.

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