A new study published in the scientific journal Nature reveals that bee venom, and more particularly one of its components called melittin, has the power to induce the death of the most aggressive breast cancer cells, but also to potentiate the effects of certain chemotherapies. A discovery which constitutes “yet another wonderful example of how natural compounds can be used to treat human diseases”.

In a study published on September 1 in the scientific journal Nature Precision Oncology, Australian researchers succeeded in demonstrating the benefit of bee venom in the destruction of the most aggressive breast cancer cells.

Significant reduction in the viability of breast cancer cells

To achieve this result, the scientists collected venom samples from more than 300 bees found in Perth, Australia, Ireland and England. The effects of the venom, which had already been demonstrated on the growth of tumors on plants in the 1950s, were this time tested on different types of breast cancer cells: those of triple negative breast cancer and HER2 positive breast, particularly aggressive diseases.

The result: the venom, and in particular one of its components called melittin (a peptide), “significantly, selectively and rapidly reduced the viability of breast cancer cells,” explains Dr Ciara Duffy, co-author of the study, in a press release. Furthermore, melittin was able to be reproduced synthetically, and had the same beneficial effects.

Potentiation of the effects of chemotherapy

The researcher claims that the venom was “extremely powerful”: a specific concentration can induce the death of 100% of cancer cells, with “minimal effects” on normal cells. “We have seen that melittin can destroy the membranes of cancer cells in 60 minutes,” she says. Within 20 minutes, the peptide was also able to reduce the chemical messages transmitted by cancer cells, essential for tumor growth and cell division, by suppressing the activation of overexpressed receptors in the two types of breast cancer studied.

Another major discovery: melittin was able to potentiate the effects of certain chemotherapies by forming holes in the membranes of cancer cells, allowing treatment to penetrate into these cells and thus increasing cell death. “We have seen that melittin can be used with small molecules or chemotherapies like docetaxel to treat highly aggressive types of breast cancer,” explains Dr. Duffy. The combination of melittin and docetaxel was extremely effective in reducing tumor growth in mice.”

According to the study’s authors, this work “reveals a molecular mechanism supporting the anticancer selectivity of melittin, and suggests therapeutic strategies to target aggressive breast cancers.” Further studies will be needed to assess the most optimal method of administration of melittin, as well as its possible toxicities and maximum tolerated dose.

Steven Peck

Working as an editor for the Scientific Origin, Steven is a meticulous professional who strives for excellence and user satisfaction. He is highly passionate about technology, having himself gained a bachelor's degree from the University of South Florida in Information Technology. He covers a wide range of subjects for our magazine.