Medicine
8:00 am
Thu April 18, 2013

Cancer Patients Turn To Scorpion Venom From Cuba

A doctor applies a mild electric shock to a blue scorpion to extract its venom.
Credit Noah Friedman-Rudovsky

The following is a brief excerpt from a new feature article written by Jean Friedman-Rudovsky. The article appears today in the three South Florida county editions of the New Times. The excerpt below is reprinted with permission. Read the entire article by picking up the current issue at a local newsstand or by clicking on the link to the New Times website at the end of the excerpt.

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Leandro Gonzáles, 6, has an inoperable brain tumor, but doctors have been able to reduce its size.
Credit Noah Friedman-Rudovsky

"Dr. Niudis Cruz points toward the images on the screen and measurements of the tumor's progression since its detection 18 months ago. From September 2011 to April 2012, it decreased in size approximately 15 percent. During that period, six-year-old Leandro Gonzales underwent no treatment other than swallowing doses of clear, tasteless liquid three times daily.

"It's scientifically impossible for a tumor to shrink on its own," the doctor emphasizes. "It has to be the result of some outside intervention."

 

Scorpions are stored by the thousands at a Labiofam facility in Santa Clara, Cuba.
Credit Noah Friedman-Rudovsky

Intervention for Leandro has been the venom of a medium-size scorpion called Rhopalurus junceus, known in Cuba as the escorpión azul — blue scorpion. Four months after he was diagnosed in May 2011, Leandro's weight had fallen to that of a 2-year-old. But after consuming the venom-water mixture, his health has returned almost to normal. He can now walk and tell you about his favorite food (sunny-side-up eggs) and color (yellow), and he rides his bike (with training wheels) daily.

"I give thanks to God," his mother Yaima says, "and to the doctors who knew about the scorpion."

José Perera is a scorpion hunter employed by Cuba's state biotech company, Labiofam.
Credit Noah Friedman-Rudovsky

For more than 20 years, Cubans have been treating cancer patients with blue scorpion venom. And there have been too many Leandros to dismiss the miraculous recoveries as coincidence. Even when the results aren't quite as jaw-dropping, thousands attest to pain relief, increased muscle strength, and renewed energy while on the medicine.

 

Yarislenis Abreu, 15, was a vegetable five years ago because of a brain tumor. Doctors credit the medicine with reducing the tumor's size.
Credit Noah Friedman-Rudovsky

The treatment is now poised for a global premiere. Cuba's state pharmaceutical company, Labiofam, recently began mass-producing a homeopathic version called Vidatox. A handful of countries have registered it for sale, and a small black market to move the product around the globe has emerged. It's impossible to know how many patients have imbibed the venom treatment from the small glass bottles over the past two decades, but the number is likely more than 55,000 globally."

 

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