Can Bringing Light Make it to Sundance?

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Thu, 12/13/2012 - 19:00 -- Nick Dager

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 to get its own moment in the spotlight as a semifinalist in the Sundance Film Festival in January. Bringing Light which focuses on the Tumor Paint research led by James Olson M.D. Ph.D. a clinical researcher at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and a pediatric oncologist at Seattle Children's Hospital is available online for viewing and voting. Viewers have until December 20 to cast their votes at The film directed by Bert Klasey Chris Baron and James Allen Smith also features neurosurgeon Richard Ellenbogen M.D. chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery at the University of Washington School of Medicine among others. It is part of a filmmaker competition called Short Films Big Ideas sponsored by Focus Forward Films. Out of 30 total entries five finalists will be screened at Sundance 2013 and the grand-prize winner will receive $100 000. Olson's team developed Tumor Paint by re-engineering scorpion venom (chlorotoxin) which naturally targets brain cancer cells by tagging 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 CEO. 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. If the human clinical trial results match the laboratory studies Tumor Paint will enable surgeons to distinguish cancer tissue from non-cancerous tissue in real time as they operate. The ultimate goal is to save lives while also reducing problems caused by surgical removal of normal tissue in critical areas. Another potential use for Tumor Paint is early detection of various forms of skin cancer. Olson and colleagues have demonstrated that it can light up non-pigmented skin cancers which are sometimes difficult to detect and pose a greater threat to the patient if they are not detected early. Olson gratefully points out that none of this research would have been possible without the support of private donors. 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 he said. At Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center home to three Nobel laureates interdisciplinary teams of world-renowned scientists seek new and innovative ways to prevent diagnose and treat cancer HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening diseases. Fred Hutch's pioneering work in bone marrow transplantation led to the development of immunotherapy which harnesses the power of the immune system to treat cancer with minimal side effects. An independent nonprofit research institute based in Seattle Fred Hutch houses the nation's first and largest cancer prevention research program as well as the clinical coordinating center of the Women's Health Initiative and the international headquarters of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network. Private contributions are essential for enabling Fred Hutch scientists to explore novel research opportunities that lead to important medical breakthroughs.