In November, Project Violet cancer researchers Mi-Youn Brusniak and Madison Wise talked with Scott Hicke’s 8th Grade class about tumor paint, protein synthesis, deriving drugs from nature, and changing the future of cancer surgery.
Project Violet is a crowdfunded program of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center focused on developing medicines for rare or incurable cancers. They’re currently working on treatments that will target cancer cells while leaving healthy cells untouched.
The visit kicked off the 8th graders’ unit on DNA, RNA, proteins and genetics in general, and gave them a chance to learn and ask questions about how professional scientists research collaboratively.
Project Violet’s first big success is tumor paint (video below). Using scorpion DNA, the compound chemically adheres to cancer cells and causes them to light up, which can make a huge impact on operability and successful outcomes of brain tumors and more. Drug trials for tumor paint are underway in Australia this year.
Students learned about this and other developments at Project Violet’s student site beforehand, which explains things like the way the scientists modify knotted proteins (called “knottins”) to tackle cancer cells.
8th graders discussed with Brusniak and Wise how tiny errors in protein structures can cause major diseases, the definitions and stages of cancers, the roles patients at Project Violet have played in their community, and natural sources the researchers are looking into for drug development, including scorpion venom, potatoes, spiders, cone snails, sea slugs, horseshoe crabs, sunflowers, and even violets.
The next 8th grade science guest speaker will be in January, a scientist specializing in neurodegenerative diseases.
(Photo: Project Violet cancer researchers Mi-Youn Brusniak and Madison Wise speaking with Scott Hicke’s 8th Grade class).