YOUR HEALTH: Helping brain surgeons by making tumors glow

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SEATTLE, Washington –  Doctors are testing the safety of "tumor paint", a new drug that helps to light up brain tumors during surgery.

And early tests are promising for families.

Laura Coffman knew something was wrong with her son Hunter, but had no idea he had a brain tumor.

"Christmas day he vomited first thing in the morning. I kept taking his temp all day," said Coffman.

They found the mass and about ten minutes later the family was walking up to put him into surgery.

The family agreed to allow Hunter to be part of a study at Seattle Children`s Hospital to light up his tumor during surgery using tumor paint.

"A couple weeks later, he was up and walking and was back to his normal self," said Coffman.

"It was absolutely amazing."

Doctor Jim Olson, Brain Tumor Physician with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, was inspired by a patient and using a molecule in scorpions that binds to cancerous tumors he created a drug that makes the cancer stand out  for surgeons.

"You don`t want to just take a big margin around the cancer like you do for other types of cancers because that could be a part of the brain that is for speech or thinking or remembering," says Dr. Olson.

Tumor paint has been used in 75 patients across four phase one clinical trials. This first part of the study is focused on safety and it looks promising.

"The fact that the tumor tissue fluoresces and that we can see the differentiation between normal tissue and abnormal tissue is really going to be a valuable tool for surgeons to use in the future," says Dr. Amy Lee, Pediatric neurosurgeon with Seattle Children's Hospital.

So far there have been no major side effects.

Some time in 2017, tumor paint will be used in 15 hospitals across the country for further study. Researchers hope to have it approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2019.

They are also starting to look at how it might help in other tumors, like breast cancer.

TREATMENTS: The treatment for brain cancer will depend on the patient’s age, general health and the size and location of the tumor. The most common treatments are radiation, chemotherapy and surgery. Most of the times a combination of these are performed. Brain surgery is usually performed to sample the tumor, or to partially or completely remove it. Nevertheless, performing a brain cancer surgery is a very delicate procedure since the brain is a vital organ for the body. Some side effects include seizures, weakness, balance/coordination difficulties, memory or cognitive problems, spinal fluid leak, meningitis, brain swelling, stroke, excess fluid on the brain, coma and death.

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If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at

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