A “tumor paint” derived from the DNA of the Israeli death stalker scorpion that chemically adheres to cancer cells and lights them up like a flashlight and is thousands of times more sensitive than MRI imagery? Radical.
As a newcomer to Seattle, I’m enjoying learning about the diverse organizations and causes with roots in the Pacific Northwest. Each month, I will highlight a local group whose radical work inspires me to be more radical in my own work and daily life.
Everyone you meet impacts your life in some way. Some of us are lucky enough to meet people who change our lives in a radical way. For Dr. Jim Olson, Violet O’Dell was one of those people. One of a few hundred children per year diagnosed with brainstem glioma—a rare, deadly, and inoperable tumor—11-year-old Violet understood she would die and requested that her brain be donated to science after her death. Violet wanted to leave a legacy of helping researchers and doctors develop effective treatments for other kids in her situation.
Violet’s generous and fearless donation inspired Dr. Olson to start Project Violet. Part of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Project Violet is on a mission to create anti-cancer compounds that will allow for more effective treatment of cancer. These compounds will attack cancer cells and leave healthy cells unharmed, allowing for more precise treatment of tumors, particularly those in more complicated areas of the body.
Tumor paint, an ongoing success for Project Violet, uses DNA from the Israeli death stalker scorpion to light up tumors like a flashlight. This “molecular flashlight” can adhere to a cluster made up of as few as 200 cells and is 100,000 times more sensitive than traditional MRI imagery. After nearly 10 years of research, tumor paint will start human trials in early 2014. Originally created for the purpose of treating pediatric brain cancer, the team has since discovered that tumor paint may have applications for breast, colon, lung, prostate, and skin cancer.
Speaking at Town Hall Seattle earlier this month, Dr. Olson said he believes nature is an incredible resource for medical research, with many plants and animals having millions of years to evolve their DNA. Dr. Olson also believes citizen science, or crowdfunding for research in the case of Project Violet, is an untapped resource for drug development. Whether you donate $100 or $10,000, you have the opportunity to “adopt” a drug candidate for research. You can follow the drug’s progress as it goes through creation and testing as it is added to the library of drug candidates. This library will allow the Project Violet team to discover drugs that might be used to alleviate symptoms of rare diseases or minimize or destroy inoperable tumors. With the help of donations and tireless work from the Project Violet team, that drug candidate may eventually become a cure for a once-incurable disease.