Breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer that affects millions of women all over the world. Today, numerous chemical compounds can fight cancer cells in a lab setting. However, very few can be produced as a treatment for humans.
This is where this new study’s claim can be a game-changer. Bee venom has been found to have cancer-killing properties previously, too. In fact, even by 1950, bee venom was shown to kill tumors in plants. It has also been shown to work against other cancers like melanoma.
The team of researchers explained that they have tested honeybee venom against every type of breast cancer cell, along with normal breast cells. Apparently, this is the first time a test of this kind has been performed.
The research team tested venom from 312 honeybees and bumblebees. The honeybee extracts were found to be "extremely potent", according to the scientists. More importantly, it was discovered that one particular concentration of the venom killed 100 percent of cancer cells within an hour and without seriously impacting the healthy ones. Interestingly, the level of toxicity increased for other dosage levels.
"Significantly, this study demonstrates how melittin interferes with signaling pathways within breast cancer cells to reduce cell replication," said Western Australia Chief Scientist Professor Peter Klinken in a Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research press release.
"It provides another wonderful example of where compounds in nature can be used to treat human diseases."
Melittin is the molecule that creates the painful sensation of a bee sting. Melittin naturally occurs in honeybee venom and can also be generated synthetically. The team tested both the venom itself and melittin separately and found that both were effective against triple-negative breast cancer and HER2-enriched (human epidermal growth factor receptor 2) breast cancer cells.
"What melittin does is it actually enters the surface of the plasma membrane and forms holes or pores and it just causes the cell to die," explained Dr. Ciara Duffy, the lead of the study. Furthermore, it was also found that melittin obstructed the cancer cells' messaging system, which is vital for cancer to multiply and grow.
Since it has been revealed that melittin makes holes in cancer cells, scientists believe this could possibly be combined with current chemotherapies that would enter the cancer cells through the openings and kill them.