Updated: Aug 20, 2021
September 1, 2020- 9:10PM
Honey Bee Venom Contains Powerful Anti-Tumor Agent
Researchers in Western Australia have discovered the honey bee (Apis mellifera) venom contains a anti-tumor agent. This groundbreaking study was published in the journal NPJ Precision Oncology.
Lead researcher Ciara Duffy told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that she hoped the findings would hold promise for the 10-15% of women who suffer from triple-negative breast cancer — meaning patients whose disease lacks all three common cancer-drug receptors, which includes the hormones estrogen and progesterone, as well as the human epidermal growth factor, called HER2, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explain. Typically, these receptors might aid doctors’ fight against tumor growth through the use of targeted therapies, which help to spare patients from the full-body ravages of chemotherapy. The five-year relative survival rate for the most progressive cases can be as little as 11%, according to the American Cancer Society.
“We found that the venom from honeybees is remarkably effective in killing some of these really aggressive breast cancer cells at concentrations that aren’t as damaging to normal cells,” said Duffy.
The study was undertaken by scientists at the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research in Perth. And, the new study has revealed a specific ration of honey bee venom that can kill 100% of the triple-negative, as well as HER2-positive, breast cancer cells.
The Venom and Melittin
The active component of honeybee venom is melittin. Both honeybee venom and melittin have demonstrated anti-tumoral effects in melanoma, non-small-cell lung cancer, glioblastoma, leukemia, ovarian, cervical, and pancreatic cancers, with higher cytotoxic potency in cancer cells compared to non-transformed cells, the study stated.
“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,” said Duffy, who further found that the molecule may also facilitate the impact of chemotherapy drugs, such as docetaxel. When combined, she explained, the melittin would first puncture the cancer membrane, permitting chemo better entry into the malignant mass.
Throughout the study, scientists also observed the the melittins benefits echoed beyond the target cancer cell to hinder future reproduction of triple negative and HER2 cancer cells.
Understanding the molecular basis and specificity of bee venom against cancer cells is key for developing and optimizing novel effective therapeutics from a natural product that is widely available and cost-effective to produce in many communities around the world. Bee venom has been used for centuries for other medicinal benefits, treatments, cosmetic and others all around the world.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported that Duffy was reticent to call it a "breakthrough.” Duffy also stated “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."