Researchers in Australia tested venom from garden-variety honeybees sourced in Western Australia, Ireland and England.
What did they find from this study?
Ciara Duffy, the 25-year old PhD researcher behind the study, declared that honeybee venom extracts were “extremely potent” and that a specific concentration of honeybee venom could kill 100% of cancer cells. Further, she said the treatment had minimal effects on normal cells.
Nobody had previously compared the effects of honeybee venom or melittin across all the different subtypes of breast cancer and normal cells, Dr. Duffy explained.
Dr. Duffy, from the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research and The University of Western Australia, conducted this research as part of her PhD. She began by collecting Perth honeybee venom because Perth bees are some of the healthiest bees in the world.
The bees were put to sleep with carbon dioxide and kept on ice before the venom barb was pulled out from the bee’s abdomen and the venom extracted by careful dissection.
She used venom from 312 honeybees and bumblebees to investigate its anti-cancer properties and its effect on the clinical sub-types of breast cancer, including types with limited treatment options.
The honeybee venom, and a compound in it called melittin, rapidly destroyed aggressive hard-to-treat triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) and HER-2-enriched breast cancer cells in a lab setting according to Australian scientists.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer that affects women around the world. TNBC accounts for 10%-15% of all breast cancers, according to the institute, but there is no current clinically effective targeted treatment. Standard treatments for it are surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
Meet Dr. Ciara Duffy in this 1:54-minute video posted by news.com.au as she explains the groundbreaking findings she and her team made:
Dr. Duffy reported that the melittin in honeybee venom had the remarkable effect of being able to substantially reduce the chemical messages of cancer cells that are essential to cancer cell growth and cell division within 20 minutes.
It was found that melittin can completely destroy cancer cell membranes within 60 minutes. It did so at concentrations that do not harm normal cells, but at other dosage levels toxicity increased.
The researchers also found that the melittin compound alone is effective in “shutting down” or disrupting cancer cell growth. While melittin is a natural substance that occurs in honeybee venom, it can be synthetically produced. This is another wonderful example of compounds in nature that may be used to treat human diseases.
The observation that melittin can suppress the growth of the cells is “incredibly exciting” according to Western Australia’s Chief Scientist, Professor Peter Klinken.
He finds it significant that this study demonstrates how melittin interferes with signaling pathways within breast cancer cells, the chemical messages that are fundamental for cancer cell growth and reproduction, to reduce cell replication.
The study also tested whether melittin can be used in combination with existing chemotherapy drugs in treating highly aggressive types of breast cancer.
It was found that melittin forms holes in breast cancer membranes, which potentially enables treatments to enter the cell and enhance the cell death. The technique of combining melittin and docetaxel (a chemotherapy medication) was extremely efficient in reducing tumor growth in mice, according to Dr. Duffy.
Scientists caution that further research and testing is needed to see if the venom can work on scale as a cancer-fighting drug. According to Associate Professor Alex Swarbrick from Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, there are many compounds that can kill a breast cancer cell in a dish or in a mouse but that is a far way off from changing clinical practice.
There are thousands of chemical compounds around the world that can fight cancer cells in a lab setting, but scientists say only a few can be produced as treatment for humans.
The study by the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research in Western Australia was published in Nature Precision Oncology, a peer-reviewed journal.
Bee venom has previously been found to have anti-cancer properties for other cancers such as melanoma.
This research holds unBEElievable potential for the future.
Hats off to Dr. Ciara Duffy!