Lots of things in nature glow, like fireflies or glowworms, even certain kinds of squid and jellyfish. And now cancer cells can be added to the list thanks to a new investigational drug called Tumor Paint BLZ-100.

It’s derived from a scorpion protein and makes cancer cells glow when injected into a vein before surgery.

At Seattle Children’s Hospital, doctors and surgeons are testing the safety, dosage and side effects of the new drug in a phase I clinical trial. A glowing brain tumor is easier for surgeons to see and remove. Tumor Paint also helps keep healthy brain tissue from being injured.

Surgery for any child comes with risk, but for children with a cancerous brain tumor, the potential for complications increases.

“We struggle in pediatrics with not only having to deal with a brain tumor but also a brain tumor in the setting of child whose brain is still developing,” says Sarah Leary, M.D., a pediatric neuro-oncologist at Seattle Children’s Hospital. “We have to think about different things because we are thinking about brain development, and not only protecting the brain that is there but protecting the brain for what it is going to do in the decades that come.”

Hunter Coffman was 2-years-old when he started having balance problems and vomiting. When he was diagnosed with a brain tumor and needed surgery at Seattle Children’s Hospital, his parents agreed to participate in the phase I drug trial for Tumor Paint.

"You think about injecting something into your child that makes things in their body glow, it is scary," said Laura Coffman, Hunter’s mom.

But after talking the procedure through with her son’s surgeon, she and her husband agreed to go ahead with the new investigational drug.

“The Tumor Paint is for the tumor,” she remembers the surgeon saying, “to make it glow, so we can better see the tumor and where it is,” she said. “My husband just kept saying, this seems like something that could help in surgery.”

Hunter is now almost 3 and recovering from his cancerous brain tumor. Doctors will continue to monitor him for any future complications from his treatment.

For more information about Tumor Paint, click here.