Who knew that one day the honeybee would have such a significant impact on breast cancer research? Scientists have recently found that the venom from these cute little creatures can destroy breast cancer cells. Dr. Ciara Duffy and her colleagues from the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research tested the toxin on the clinical subtypes of breast cancer. They included triple-negative breast cancer in their study, which doesn’t have many treatment options available.
THE BREAK-THROUGH STUDY
Researchers used venom from 312 honeybees and bumblebees in Perth, Western Australia, Ireland, and England. Dr. Duffy said that the team wanted to investigate what effects honeybee venom and melittin would have on breast cancer cells. Published in the journal npj Precision Oncology, the study revealed that honeybee venom and its major component melittin, rapidly destroyed triple-negative breast cancer. It also discovered suppressed growth factor receptor activation in HER2-enriched breast cancer cells.
“No-one had previously compared the effects of honeybee venom or melittin across all of the different subtypes of breast cancer and normal cells,” Dr. Duffy said. “We tested honeybee venom on normal breast cells, and cells from the clinical subtypes of breast cancer: hormone receptor-positive, HER2-enriched, and triple-negative breast cancer.”
“We tested a very small, positively charged peptide in honeybee venom called melittin, which we could reproduce synthetically, and found that the synthetic product mirrored the majority of the anti-cancer effects of honeybee venom.”
The study went on to say the following:
“WE FOUND BOTH HONEYBEE VENOM AND MELITTIN SIGNIFICANTLY, SELECTIVELY AND RAPIDLY REDUCED THE VIABILITY OF TRIPLE-NEGATIVE BREAST CANCER AND HER2-ENRICHED BREAST CANCER CELLS.”
Dr. Duffy said that the honeybee venom had a high potency, able to induce 100% cancer cell death. Even more importantly, venom minimally affects normal cells, unlike treatments such as chemotherapy. The research found that melittin completely destroyed cancer cell membranes in 60 minutes or less. Also, within 20 minutes, melittin significantly reduced the chemical messages of cancer cells, which cause cell growth and division.
They studied how the venom and melittin affected cancer signaling pathways, which send messages to cancer cells. Typically, the messages call for cell growth and reproduction, but the venom shuts down the signaling pathways quickly.
“Melittin modulated the signaling in breast cancer cells by suppressing the activation of the receptor that is commonly overexpressed in triple-negative breast cancer, the epidermal growth factor receptor, and it suppressed the activation of HER2 which is over-expressed in HER2-enriched breast cancer,” Duffy said.
Dr. Duffy also tested to see if melittin could work with existing chemotherapy drugs. Melittin forms pores in breast cancer cell membranes, which would enable entry of other treatments into cells.