Mimi Murphy's Medical Breakthroughs: Scorpions Stop Cancer

By: Mimi Murphy
By: Mimi Murphy

A scorpion's sting can cause pain, and sometimes even death. Now, the very venom that harms most people may be capable of saving the lives of cancer patients.

Meet the Israeli Yellow Scorpion. It's not deadly, but its sting is painful. Twenty-four-year-old Duane Rualo and his brother are hoping it will save Duane from brain cancer.

"It's one of the worst kinds of cancers you can have, because there's still no treatment," Duane said.

Duane has a malignant glioma, a brain tumor that kills 98 percent of those who get it. After surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy failed, Duane learned of a new treatment using scorpion venom.

"I'm hopeful that it's a step in the right direction," said his neurosurgeon Adam Mamelak, M.D.

Dr. Mamelak and others at City of Hope Medical Center in Duarte, Calif., inject a copy of the toxin directly into the brains of patients just before radiation. The toxin doesn't kill tumor cells, but it does cling to them.

"So by attaching, radioactivity, which we know can kill the cells, to the toxin, the toxin then can bind the cell, then radioactivity itself can do the cell killing," Dr. Mamelak said.

Duane was the first patient to receive the treatment. Although he also had a second surgery, he believes it was the toxin that saved him.

"If I didn't have this, apparently I only had three months to live at the most, and I'm still here after, what, seven months," Duane said.

Doctors are more cautious.

"Certainly we're hopeful that the treatment had something to do with it, but it's far too early in the trial to really make those kinds of statements," Dr. Mamelak said.

Until they know for sure, Duane is holding onto hope.

So far, eight patients have undergone the experimental treatment at City of Hope Medical Center and the University of Alabama in Birmingham. All but one of the patients are still alive.

If you would like more information, please contact:

Mireya Sanchez
City of Hope Medical Center
1500 E. Duarte Road
Duarte, CA 91010
(626) 359-8111 x64516
http://www.cityofhope.org

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