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Scorpion venom: A cure for cancer?

From Lucia Newman, CNN Havana Bureau Chief

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HAVANA, Cuba (CNN) -- Niurys Monzon, 28, says she is a living proof that it works.

"I was eleven when I was diagnosed," she said, "and started taking Escozul when I was fifteen."

Her father, Jose Felipe Monzon told CNN that in 1992 her cancer of the pancreas had spread despite two years of chemotherapy, radiation treatment and three operations and that doctors had given up.

In desperation, he turned to a man named Misael Bordier, a biologist from Guantanamo who was experimenting with scorpion venom on cancerous tumors in rats and dogs.

According to Bordier, the test results were astonishing.

"The immune system of the benign cells increases, the malignant cells start dying and the tumors shrink or disappear," he explained.

"We saw how some 85 percent of the rats survived."

Niurys was his first human patient.

She and her father were so grateful they began breeding scorpions -- they now have 3,000 of them -- and under Bordier's direction are distributing the venom at no cost from their home.

Twice a week they dispense hundreds of bottles of the unusual liquid -- a potion made of distilled water mixed with drops of venom from the blue scorpion.

People from all over Cuba and even abroad come to their home, seeking an unorthodox treatment for cancer.

"Doctors gave my father a month to live and said they could do nothing because he had nine brain tumors," said Radel Cortez who came to pick up more of the scorpion poison he believes has prolonged his father's life for the last seven months.

The Monzons says the only problem is a shortage of the raw material for their treatment. There aren't enough little blue scorpions to meet the demand.

Bordier told CNN some 60,000 Cubans have used the Escozul to treat their cancer in just over a decade.

Niurys and Jose Monzon admit they haven't gathered any scientifically controlled data, but say from their experience 80 percent of patients show a marked improvement in quality and duration of life, and of those 25 to 30 percent go into remission.

But Cuba's Oncology Institute is skeptical and says more tests need to be run to determine whether Escozul does indeed work. Cuba's largest laboratory, Labiofam, is already conducting experiments.

In the meantime, people will continue to come here for Escozul, which provides if not a miracle cure, at least a last ray of hope.

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