Photo by Susie Fitzhugh
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 for its own moment in the spotlight in the Sundance Film Festival in January.
"Bringing Light," about the Tumor Paint research led by the Clinical Research Division's Dr. Jim Olson, is among 20 finalists in a competition called "Short Films, Big Ideas," sponsored by Focus Forward Films. A jury will select the top five entries to be screened at Sundance 2013, with the grand-prize winner receiving $100,000.
Although audience voting doesn't factor in to the jury's selection of the winners, voting will count for "Audience Favorite" designation, so view the film, vote and and tell your friends. To date nearly 20,000 people have watched "Bringing Light." The deadline for casting votes is Dec. 20.
The film, directed by Bert Klasey, Chris Baron and James Allen Smith, also features neurosurgeon Dr. Richard Ellenbogen, chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery at the University of Washington School of Medicine, among others.
Olson, also a pediatric oncologist at Seattle Children's Hospital, and his team developed Tumor Paint by re-engineering scorpion venom (chlorotoxin), which naturally targets brain cancer cells. They tagged 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 chief executive officer.
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.
Tumor Paint also may aid in the early detection of various forms of skin cancer. Olson and colleagues have demonstrated the paint can light up nonpigmented skin cancers, which are sometimes dangerously difficult to detect.
"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," Olson said.