We all fear the deadly sting of a honeybee, but most of us don’t know that their weapons could be more than just a nuisance. A new study shows that a molecule found in bee venom can suppress particular deadly cancer cells’ growth.
The study focused on certain subtypes of breast cancer, including triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), an extremely aggressive condition with limited treatment options.
TNBC accounts for up to 15% of all breast cancers. In certain cases, the cells contain more of a molecule called EGFR than normal cells do. Previous efforts to create drugs that directly attack this receptor have not succeeded, since they will also affect healthy cells.
Honeybee (Apis mellifera) venom has demonstrated positive outcomes in other medicinal treatments, such as eczema treatment. Now, with this study, it has made a big move towards important treatment facilities.
Bees also use melittin — a compound that makes up half of their venom and makes their stings very painful, to fend off their pathogens. This peptide is produced by insects not only in their venom but also in other tissues, where it is released in response to infections.
With this potent molecule in hand, researchers subjected lab-grown cancer cells and human cells to honeybee venom from Ireland, England.
Bumblebee venom-which does not contain melittin but has other possible cell-killers-has had no impact on breast cancer cells. Still, honeybee venom from both locations has made a difference.
The cancer cells exposed to bee venom survived while melittin had been inhibited by an antibody – suggesting that melittin is also responsible for the findings in earlier trials.
The best thing was that melittin did not affect human cells, specifically target cells that created a great deal of EGFR and HER2. Some cases of breast cancer poorly generated this additional enzyme.
As stated by Peter Klinken, chief scientist of Western Australia, this research shows how melittin interferes with signalling pathways within breast cancer cells to limit replication.
The study team also developed a modified form of melittin to look at its effects in contrast to the real thing.
Duffy and her team subsequently tested the melittin effect in mice, coupled with chemotherapy drugs. The experimental therapy decreased the cancer cell level by the molecule to avoid immune system detection.
To treat highly aggressive breast cancer types, melittin has been found useful in small molecules or chemotherapies, such as docetaxel. The combination of melittin and docetaxel has been very effective in reducing the growth of mice’s tumours.
There are certainly many things in a petri dish that kill a cancer cell, and the researchers are warning that there is a long way to go before this venom molecule may be used as a treatment for humans.
Their paper also wrote that future studies would be necessary before human studies to evaluate toxicity and maximum tolerated doses formally.
But this formidable insect weapon is another fantastic example of chemicals found in the wild, which could also help human diseases. We must, however, remember that honeybees face major health threats, like so many other creatures.