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How bees can cure cancer


We have previously discussed the difficulties faced trying to treat cancer. Cancer is caused by faulty cells replicating and spreading out of control.

How bees can cure cancer

We have previously discussed the difficulties faced trying to treat cancer. Cancer is caused by faulty cells replicating and spreading out of control. To destroy cancer our current medication targets and destroys rapidly replicating cells through chemo and radiotherapy, or specifically target cells displaying cancer markers with newer chemo and immunotherapy agents. Unfortunately, these methods have side effects damaging healthy replicating tissue, causing hair loss, gut problems, infertility and more. We are always on the hunt for newer, more targeted therapy that only hits cancer cells and leaves our healthy tissue alive. Sometimes the ideas for these chemicals come from the most unlikely sources.

This month, they came from bees.

Bees have been the source of many medicinal products, including honey, propolis, and even the venom has previously been found to have anti-tumour effects. It has shown to have some effect in melanoma, lung cancer, glioblastoma, leukaemia, ovarian, cervical and pancreatic cancers. It is able to be selective against these cancerous cells, leaving the healthy cells relatively untouched.

Until recently it has been a mystery how the honeybee venom works. In their September 2020 paper, the researchers were able to produce a synthetic version of the honeybee venom (melittin) and observe its action on cancer cells. They found it punctured the cancer cell surface and form holes on the surface. 20 minutes later they also interfered with the cancer signalling pathways inside that are vital to let cancer cells grow and replicate unimpeded.

When combined with known chemotherapy agents, the melittin pores allowed the chemo agents to enter cancer cells more effectively and work more effectively. This was able to reduce tumour growth in mice more efficiently.

The paper also demonstrated its effectiveness in triple-negative breast cancer. This form of breast cancer does not express oestrogen and progesterone receptors, nor do they have HER2 proteins. As a result, they are very difficult to target with chemotherapy or hormonal therapy. The fact melittin was able to potentiate the effects of current chemotherapy against triple-negative breast cancer shows its potential as an agent in fighting breast cancer.

Of course, it is early days yet, and these experiments have only been conducted in mice. It will be a few years until the therapy can be trialled with any confidence in human subjects. Nevertheless, it is interesting to see how innovative medical researchers are in procuring new therapies in the fight against cancer.