A new study by scientists in Australia found that honeybee venom can rapidly kill aggressive and hard-to-treat breast cancer cells.
According to the study published in the journal, Nature Precision Oncology, when the honeybee venom’s main ingredient was combined with other existing chemotherapy drugs, it was even more effective at reducing tumor growth in mice.
The study was conducted at Perth’s Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research by Dr. Ciara Duffy as part of her PhD.
“We found that the venom from honeybees is remarkably effective in killing some of these really aggressive breast cancer cells at concentrations which aren’t as damaging to normal cells,” Dr. Duffy said.
Researchers found that by applying a specific concentration of the venom, 100 percent of triple-negative breast cancers and HER2-enriched breast cancer cells were destroyed within 60 minutes while also having a minimal effect on other nearby cells. Dr. Duffy says the key ingredient in the honeybee venom, known as melittin, is what had the killing effect.
“What melittin does is it actually enters the surface, or the plasma membrane and forms holes or pores and it just causes the cell to die,” Dr Duffy said.
That’s not all – scientists also discovered that the melittin also interfered with the main messaging or cancer-signaling pathways that are key for the growth and replication of cancer cells, effectively shutting down the signaling pathways for the reproduction of triple-negative and HER2 cancer cells.
When the melitten was combined with existing chemotherapy drugs, Dr. Duffy found that the holes in the breast cancer membranes caused by the venom allowed the chemotherapy to enter the cell and reduced tumor growth in mice.
However, while the discovery of melitten’s effects on breast cancers is an encouraging step on the path to a cancer cure, Dr. Duffy said her research was just beginning and more needed to be done.
“There’s a long way to go in terms of how we would deliver it in the body and, you know, looking at toxicities and maximum tolerated doses before it ever went further,” she said.
Photo: Getty Images