Photo by Susie Fitzhugh
SEATTLE – Nov. 26, 2012 – A three-minute film about a tiny molecule that lights up brain tumors so neurosurgeons can better distinguish cancer from normal tissue has a chance to get its own moment in the spotlight as one of 20 finalists for the Sundance Film Festival in January.
“Bringing Light,” (http://vimeo.com/51888804) which focuses on the “Tumor Paint” research led by James Olson, M.D., Ph.D., a clinical researcher at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and a pediatric oncologist at Seattle Children’s Hospital, is available online for viewing and voting. The filmmakers' goal is to receive at least 50,000 votes by the Dec. 20 deadline.
The film, directed by Bert Klasey, Chris Baron and James Allen Smith, also features neurosurgeon Richard Ellenbogen, M.D., chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery at the University of Washington School of Medicine, among others. It is part of a filmmaker competition called “Short Films, Big Ideas” sponsored by Focus Forward Films. Out of 30 total entries, a jury will select five finalists to be screened at Sundance 2013. The grand-prize winner will receive $100,000.
Olson’s team developed Tumor Paint by re-engineering scorpion venom (chlorotoxin), which naturally targets brain cancer cells, by tagging it with a molecule that acts like a flashlight, causing brain tumors to “light up” during surgery so the margins can be seen more easily. The goal is to help surgeons remove as much cancer as possible while safely leaving normal brain tissue intact.
Tumor Paint is not yet in human use but is being developed by Blaze Bioscience, a Seattle biotech founded by Olson and Heather Franklin, president and CEO.
The potential of Tumor Paint is not limited to brain tumors; it has been found in preclinical studies to light up prostate, colon, breast and other cancers. It is anticipated that human trials in cancer patients will begin next year.
If the human clinical trial results match the laboratory studies, Tumor Paint will enable surgeons to distinguish cancer tissue from non-cancerous tissue in real time as they operate. The ultimate goal is to save lives while also reducing problems caused by surgical removal of normal tissue in critical areas.
Another potential use for Tumor Paint is early detection of various forms of skin cancer. Olson and colleagues have demonstrated that it can light up non-pigmented skin cancers, which are sometimes difficult to detect and pose a greater threat to the patient if they are not detected early.
Olson gratefully points out that none of this research would have been possible without the support of private donors. “The work on Tumor Paint was funded primarily through financial gifts made to Fred Hutch and Seattle Children’s Hospital by individuals, families and businesses that place their trust in our researchers to invent and develop new lifesaving therapies,” he said.
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At Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, home to three Nobel laureates, interdisciplinary teams of world-renowned scientists seek new and innovative ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer, HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening diseases. The Hutchinson Center’s pioneering work in bone marrow transplantation led to the development of immunotherapy, which harnesses the power of the immune system to treat cancer with minimal side effects. An independent, nonprofit research institute based in Seattle, the Hutchinson Center houses the nation’s first and largest cancer prevention research program, as well as the clinical coordinating center of the Women’s Health Initiative and the international headquarters of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network. Private contributions are essential for enabling Hutchinson Center scientists to explore novel research opportunities that lead to important medical breakthroughs. For more information visit www.fhcrc.org or follow the Hutchinson Center on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.