NEDLANDS, Australia — A groundbreaking discovery in Australia is giving new meaning to the term natural remedy. Using hundreds of honeybees, a new study reveals the venom in these insects’ stingers quickly kills breast cancer cells.
Dr. Ciara Duffy says honeybee venom destroys multiple types of breast cancer, even the hard to treat triple-negative variety. Her study in the journal npj Precision Oncology finds the venom not only eradicates these cancers, it also breaks up a cancerous cell’s ability to reproduce. It also contains a compound called melittin which researchers say helps this natural remedy stop the disease with remarkable speed.
“The venom was extremely potent,” the researcher from the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research says in a media release. “We found that melittin can completely destroy cancer cell membranes within 60 minutes.”
In just 20 minutes, melittin breaks down the chemical messages breast cancer cells transmits to trigger both cell growth and cell division. The compound suppresses the receptors that commonly overexpress themselves in triple-negative breast cancer and HER2-enriched breast cancer.
Venom was also tested against hormone receptor positive breast cancer cells and normal breast cells. With a specifically concentrated dose of the venom, researchers are able to kill 100 percent of cancer cells. At the same time, the study finds bee venom does little harm to normal cells.
“This study demonstrates how melittin interferes with signaling pathways within breast cancer cells to reduce cell replication. It provides another wonderful example of where compounds in nature can be used to treat human diseases,” Professor Peter Klinkenhe from the University of Western Australia says.
Do all bees carry this special venom?
Although there are around 20,000 different species of bees, the study finds not every insect can fight cancer. Dr. Duffy’s tests on 312 honeybees and bumblebees from Perth, Western Australia reveal bumblebee venom does not induce cancer cell death. Honeybees from other regions however, share this special ability to rapidly stop the disease.
“I found that the European honeybee in Australia, Ireland and England produced almost identical effects in breast cancer compared to normal cells,” Duffy reports.
Researchers add Perth bees are some of the healthiest members of their species. While the study dissects live bee stingers to extract melittin, it finds this compound can be successfully reproduced in labs.
“The synthetic product mirrored the majority of the anti-cancer effects of honeybee venom,” the Australian scientist adds.
Adding honeybee venom to chemotherapy treatments
Study authors say melittin can also help current cancer treatments like chemotherapy. The report discovers melittin also forms numerous pores (tiny holes) in the breast cancer cell membrane. Duffy suspects other cancer drugs may be able to use these openings to penetrate the cells and kill the disease.
“We found that melittin can be used with small molecules or chemotherapies, such as docetaxel, to treat highly-aggressive types of breast cancer. The combination of melittin and docetaxel was extremely efficient in reducing tumor growth in mice.”
Using bee venom as a medical remedy has been studied since the 1950’s, but Duffy’s team says it’s only been considered as treatment for cancer during the last two decades. More research needs to be done to find out what kind of a dose human patients will require.