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Wow of the week: How scorpions, spiders, potatoes and one patient’s story might revolutionize cancer treatment

August 24, 2013 9:00 am by | 1 Comments

What if a horseshoe crab’s DNA contains the cure for cancer? Project Violet, a nonprofit comprised of a team of researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, are using small proteins from plants and animals, plus the inspiration of one patient, to create drugs that may combat the disease.

Dr. James Olson, a pediatric oncologist and leader of the project, named it after an 11-year-old patient who was a “firecracker” with terminal brain cancer. Olson says in the video she “wasn’t afraid of death” and donated her brain to research. In honor of this incredible gift, Olson named the project, which harnesses optides (optimized peptides found in nature) to create drugs to treat cancer. While several companies work with optides and their pharmaceutical potential, the researchers at Project Violet report they can now create 10,000 optides in three weeks (as opposed to a year to make a few dozen).

The group is crowdfunding the research in a unique way: Donate $100 and adopt a drug. According to the website, you can name a drug that ”is actually part of the drug discovery process and may be the key to a new therapy. Your donations help the scientists build a growing library of potentially lifesaving drugs.”

Every time Olson’s TEDxSeattle talk (above) is viewed, the Washington Research Foundation will donate $10 to Project Violet up to $50,000. (You can actually help cancer research by just watching a video in your pajamas on a Saturday.) Olson wrote this on the organization’s website about his how his experience as Violet’s doctor led to this innovation and drive:

The day I met Violet and her parents, I first stood outside the door at the hospital and took some deep breaths. I swallowed hard, choked back some tears, and couldn’t go in. I took a walk around the hospital so that I could gather myself to be strong for them. I did not know what they looked like, what information they already knew, what they had deduced from the internet, whether I would be able to understand Violet’s speech, or how they would take the news. Over the past 22 years, I have faced the scenario way too many times of walking into a room to meet a family, knowing that we would begin a journey that would last only part of a year.

I dream that before I retire, I will be able to walk into the room of a child with newly diagnosed brainstem glioma and tell them that there is hope for survival.

The platform technology behind the project is Tumor Paint, a product Olson and his team invented that uses optides from scorpions to “light up” cancer so it could be seen during surgery. (This since has become one of two biotech spinouts the team has generated.)

According to the Project Violet website, the drugs are also being tested to treat autism, stroke prevention and some mental health issues.

To donate to Project Violet, click here.

 

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Lindsey Alexander

By Lindsey Alexander

Lindsey Alexander is an Indiana-based freelance writer and editor covering the medical device industry. She earned a degree in journalism from Indiana University and a master's from Purdue.
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