Bee venom is effective in killing aggressive breast cancer cells, an astonishing new study from an Aussie scientist has found.
Results revealed the venom – from honeybees sourced in Western Australia, England and Ireland – rapidly destroyed triple-negative breast cancer and HER2-enriched breast cancer cells.
The scientist behind the research, Dr Ciara Duffy, said a specific concentration of honeybee venom could kill 100 per cent of cancer cells.
She said the treatment had minimal effects on normal cells.
“The venom was extremely potent,” she said.
Dr Duffy, from the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research and The University of Western Australia, used the venom from 312 bees to test the effect on the clinical subtypes of breast cancer, including types with limited treatment options.
The key ingredient was the compound melittin, naturally occurring in the venom, which Dr Duffy said can be reproduced synthetically.
“We found that melittin can completely destroy cancer cell membranes within 60 minutes,“ she said.
“No-one had previously compared the effects of honeybee venom or melittin across all of the different subtypes of breast cancer and normal cells.”
She said melittin in honeybee venom also had another remarkable effect: within 20 minutes, melittin was able to substantially reduce the chemical messages of cancer cells that are essential to cancer cell growth and cell division.
“We looked at how honeybee venom and melittin affect the cancer signalling pathways, the chemical messages that are fundamental for cancer cell growth and reproduction, and we found that very quickly these signalling pathways were shut down,” she said.
Western Australia’s chief scientist, Professor Peter Klinken, said it was an “incredibly exciting observation”.
“It provides another wonderful example of where compounds in nature can be used to treat human diseases,” he said.
Dr Duffy’s research was conducted as part of her PhD.
“I began with collecting Perth honeybee venom,” she said.
“Perth bees are some of the healthiest 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 abdomen of the bee and the venom extracted by careful dissection.”