A revolutionary approach to pediatric brain cancer
In the few months since Dr. Olson spoke at IN for the Hutch, his team has made remarkable progress. Thanks to your support, Dr. Olson is one step closer to his vision that one day, brainstem gliomas and other devastating brain cancers will no longer be a death sentence.
“Because the funding is now in hand, and because of the kids suffering today with tumors that surgery missed, this project is extremely high priority for us,” Dr. Olson said.
As you heard, Dr. Olson and his team are working on two strategies to treat inoperable brain tumors. Both build on his groundbreaking invention Tumor Paint, an imaging agent derived from scorpion venom that lights up cancer cells with amazing precision. For operable brain tumors, Tumor Paint holds great promise as a tool to guide surgeons’ scalpels to accurately remove tumors while leaving healthy tissue behind. But for many brain cancer patients, no scalpel can save them, no matter how precise.
Dr. Olson’s first approach to help these patients will be to work with engineers using novel technology that combines Tumor Paint, computer-guided mirrors and a small but powerful laser that homes to and excises the glowing cancer cells. This cutting-edge technique deftly integrates Dr. Olson’s previous discoveries: accurate tumor detection and cell-specific killing.
Now, the researchers are putting together the team to implement this approach. A group of independent engineers who have worked with Dr. Olson on Tumor Paint for the past decade is currently working on a feasibility plan and proposal. Dr. Olson is also reaching out to several laser physics experts. Their feasibility analysis will either lead to the development of a prototype or guide the team to focus on their second strategy.
Simultaneously, Dr. Olson’s group is working on a novel drug-delivery system using their expertise on Tumor Paint and other optides, disease-fighting molecules built from naturally occurring compounds such as those found in sea slugs and sunflowers. The team’s goal is to develop an optide that can deliver cancer-killing drugs via the bloodstream specifically to inoperable brain tumors. This approach has the benefit of being able to target tumors buried deep in the brain that can’t be reached by laser or scalpel.
To date, the research group has made 10 such candidate optides, and they are now in the process of purifying them for preclinical testing. Dr. Olson’s team will add more candidates to the group to boost their chances of finding one or more optides with the sensitivity and precision needed to attack brain tumors.
Looking ahead: potential for tech to save more lives
Dr. Olson’s techniques could be used for adult patients and for other cancer types. “I like to think of the pediatric patient as we plan our final product,” he said. “If it’s safe and effective for a child’s brain, we’ve likely also passed the threshold for other patients and other cancers.”
Their work to cure pediatric brain cancer is still in early stages, but thanks to your support the research team is rapidly making great strides.
Again, thank you for your generous support of Fred Hutch and donations to Dr. Olson’s groundbreaking research. IN for the Hutch continues to be a one-of-a-kind fundraising event, and we look forward to building new traditions with you for many more years to come.