(CBS) — When we hear scorpion or wasp, most of us cringe at the thought of getting stung and that painful–sometimes deadly– venom, but some researchers believe that venom can actually save lives by fighting cancer.
In this Original Report, CBS 2’s Mai Martinez talked to one woman who’s living proof.
Donna Van Ryn says the choice facing her in December of 2008 was to “go out fighting or just lay here and die” when she decided to allow doctors to use scorpion venom through an IV to treat her brain cancer as part of a clinical trial.
Donna’s doctor, Rimas Lukas of the University of Chicago Medical Center, says the venom acted as a Trojan horse bringing a radioactive isotope directly to the tumor.
“Causes damage both by the venom itself as well as the radiation given locally,” says Dr. Lukas. “It’s not completely understood why, but it does.”
Facing her fourth glioblastoma, Dr. Lukas says Donna only had months at best to live, but after three-treatments of scorpion venom, nearly seven-years later she appears to be cancer free.
Dr. Lukas attributes her survival to the “scorpion venom and the biology of her disease.”
Now, researchers are hoping venom from Brazilian wasps might be the next to fight cancer. A new study released today says the venom can create gaping holes in cancer cells which could cause the cells to die or at least inhibit their growth.
The thought of using venom to help fight cancer may sound shocking, but not to scientists at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.
“It’s almost like a puzzle piece,” said curator Steve Sullivan. “The venom will find a place where it can lock in and that’s what it will rip apart or stop or whatever the venom is intended to do.”
Van Ryn considers it a miracle and says it’s forever changed the way she looks at scorpions.
“I look at everything that God made and I say, ‘this is useful,’” she says. “There’s a purpose for that little animal to be around.”
We should note the venom used to fight cancer is from specific species of scorpions and wasps, and it’s a synthetic version of certain components– not the full venom someone might get, if stung.