Washington University researchers have harnessed the toxin in bee venom to kill tumour cells.
The researchers have revealed that they did so by attaching the major component of bee venom to nano-sized spheres they call nanobees.
Experimenting on mice, the researchers found that nanobees delivered the bee toxin melittin to tumours, while protecting other tissues from the toxin’s destructive power. The researchers said that tumours in the treated mice either stopped growing or shrank.
“The nanobees fly in, land on the surface of cells and deposit their cargo of melittin which rapidly merges with the target cells. We’ve shown that the bee toxin gets taken into the cells where it pokes holes in their internal structures,” says co-author Samuel Wickline, who heads the Siteman Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence at Washington University.
Melittin is a small protein, or peptide, that is strongly attracted to cell membranes, where it can form pores that break up cells and kill them. The researchers have revealed that they tested nanobees in two kinds of mice with cancerous tumours: one mouse breed was implanted with human breast cancer cells, and the other with melanoma tumours.
They said that after four to five injections of the melittin-carrying nanoparticles over several days, growth of the mice’s breast cancer tumours slowed by nearly 25%, and the size of the mice’s melanoma tumours decreased by 88% compared to untreated tumours.