The Future of Oncology: Honey Bees?

Could honey bees hold the secret to more potent treatment options against aggressive forms of breast cancer? Researchers from the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research (HPIMR) in Western Australia believe the emergence of breast cancer treatments derived from honey bee venom may not be far away.

According to the group’s recently published work in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Precision Oncology, an active compound in honey bee venom, melittin, has shown the ability to kill traditionally hard-to-treat forms of breast cancer.

As part of the study, venom from more than 312 honey bees was collected and administered against two types of breast cancer – HER2-enriched and triple-negative, which have limited treatment options. Initial lab results shocked researchers with the potency to kill cancer cells in as little as an hour, with minimal harm to other surrounding cells.

“The venom was extremely potent. We found that melittin can completely destroy cancer cell membranes within 60 minutes,” said Ciara Duffy, Ph.D, a 25-year-old researcher and lead scientist behind the study.

Another remarkable finding from the study is that the melittin in honey bee venom was able to penetrate the outer membrane of cancer cells. In as little as 20 minutes, this substantially reduced the chemical messages of cancer cells that are essential to cancer growth and cell division.

Because melittin penetrates these cell membranes, it shows promise as a way to enhance the effectiveness of existing chemotherapy drugs by enabling them to more effectively penetrate and kill cancer cells. To test this, the researchers utilized a combination of melittin and a drug called docetaxel to treat a mouse with triple-negative breast cancer. The combination of therapies was observed to be more effective in shrinking the tumors than either melittin or docetaxel alone.

Soon doctors could utilize this form of combination therapy to increase the efficacy or reduce the dosage of chemotherapy drugs, a strategy that could reduce side effects for patients and lead to better medical outcomes.

The utilization of melittin and traditional treatment options has great promise as future treatments for various forms of cancer, not just breast cancer. Melittin has shown to be effective against a range of tumors within laboratory tests, including melanoma, lung, ovarian and pancreatic cancers.

Although studies like this show amazing promise for new forms of cancer treatments, it’s important to remember the use of melittin to target and kill cancer cells is still in its infancy. Much more research is still needed before being administered to human patients. Luckily, patients can rest assured knowing that their oncology team at Tampa Bay Radiation Oncology is deeply knowledgeable on the latest and highest-quality cancer treatments available.

Breast cancer is the second-most common cancer among women in Florida, behind skin cancer. A woman’s chance of developing breast cancer during her lifetime is about one-in-eight.

More than a thousand men and women diagnosed with cancer each year turn to our trusted team of cancer specialists. We encourage you to call us at 850-610-3743, ask us a question, or consult with us to get a second opinion, so you, too, can experience the difference.