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Hopeful and surprising news coming from Perth, Australia! According to a recent study published in the journal npj Precision Oncology, venom from honeybees rapidly destroyed triple-negative breast cancer, a type of cancer with limited treatment options HER2-enriched breast cancer cells.

Dr. Ciara Duffy from the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research and The University of Western Australia used the venom from over 300 honeybees and bumblebees in England, Ireland, and Perth to test the effect of the venom on the clinical subtypes of breast cancer, as stated in a September 1 news release.

The study investigated the venom’s anti-cancer properties in honeybees and melittin, the “active component of honeybee venom,” according to the published research on different types of breast cancer cells.

Dr. Duffy said, “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”. She went on to explain, “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.”

Duffy said the study showed that melittin destroyed cancer cells and reduced the cancer cells’ chemical messages that enable cancer to divide and proliferate within 20 minutes. “We found that melittin can completely destroy cancer cell membranes within 60 minutes.”

The melittin was also tested to see if it could be used in conjunction with current chemotherapy drugs. “We found that melittin can be used with small molecules or chemotherapies, such as docetaxel, to treat highly-aggressive types of breast cancer. The combination of melittin and docetaxel was extremely efficient in reducing tumor growth in mice.”

Professor Peter Klinken, Western Australia’s chief scientist, said in the release, “This is an incredibly exciting observation that melittin, a major component of honeybee venom, can suppress the growth of deadly breast cancer cells, particularly triple-negative breast cancer.”

Duffy also stated the type of bee was particular to her findings. “I found that the European honeybee in Australia, Ireland, and England produced almost identical effects in breast cancer compared to normal cells. However, bumblebee venom was unable to induce cell death even at very high concentrations.”

More studies are needed to assess the best method of providing melittin and maximum tolerated doses and potential toxicities. Still, we think that Professor Klinken hit the nail on the head when he said, “It provides another wonderful example of where compounds in nature can be used to treat human diseases.” 

You can read more about it here.