Promising Study Finds Honeybee Venom Rapidly Kills Breast Cancer Cells

Promising Study Finds Honeybee Venom Rapidly Kills Breast Cancer Cells

The research found that the venom's main component combined with the existing chemotherapy drugs was remarkably efficient at reducing tumor growth in mice.

Image Source: Getty Images/Joannis S Duran / Freelance Photographer (Representative)

A potentially groundbreaking Australian research suggests that venom from honeybees rapidly kills an aggressive form of breast cancer cells. The promising study also found that the venom's main component, when combined with the existing chemotherapy drugs, was remarkably efficient at reducing the growth of tumors in mice. The research study was led by Dr. Ciara Duffy as part of her Ph.D. program at Perth's Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research. Published in the journal Nature Precision Oncology, Dr. Duffy explained how potent the venom of honeybee had proven to be. "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," she said.


Dr. Duffy hopes that this revelation could ultimately lead to the development of a treatment for triple-negative breast cancer, a type of cancer that accounts for 10-15% of all breast cancers. Unfortunately, there aren't any effective and clinically targeted therapies and she aims to change that fact. In the due course of the research, it was found that a specific concentration of the venom was able to kill 100% of triple-negative breast cancer and HER2-enriched breast cancer cells and it all happened within 60 minutes. What's more, the venom had minimal effect on the normal cells. 


For her study, Dr. Duffy accumulated venom from honeybee hives at the University of Western Australia and some from England and Ireland. "Perth bees are some of the healthiest in the world," she revealed. For the extraction of the venom, the bees were first put to sleep with the help of carbon dioxide and then placed on ice. The venom was then extracted and injected into the tumors. She reportedly noted that melittin, a component of the venom was the one exterminating these cancerous cells. 


Following this discovery, researchers synthetically reproduced the melittin and found that it imitated the majority of the anti-cancer effects the honeybee venom had. "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 Dr. Duffy. Furthermore, they also discovered that within 20 minutes the melittin began showing another powerful effect. "We found it was interfering with the main messaging or cancer-signaling pathways that are fundamental for the growth and replication of cancer cells," she explained. I essence, it was effectively shutting off the pathways that drive the reproduction of triple-negative and HER2 cancer cells.


The effect of melittin was also examined by combining it with the existing chemotherapy drugs like docetaxel. What she found was that the holes in breast cancer membranes created by the melittin allowed for the chemotherapy to enter the cell and work very efficiently to reduce tumor growth in mice. Professor Peter Klinken, Western Australia's Chief Scientist, was impressed with this "incredibly exciting discovery." Describing it as a significant development, Klinken said that this discovery was an example of how compounds in nature could be effectively used to treat human diseases. "I think it's incredibly exciting that they've made this observation that the molecule melittin can actually affect the cancer cells, but that it can work in combination with other drugs which come from natural products as well, and in combination they're really knocking these cancer cells on the head," he said according to reports.

Image Source: Getty Images/Gary Yeowell (Representative)

Although Dr. Duffy refrained from using words like cure or breakthrough, she emphasized that this study was just the beginning and that more research had 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. 

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