Sign In
  • ENG

Breakthrough discovery: Honeybee venom could help treat triple-negative breast cancer

Melittin is the key ingredient in the bee venom that had the killing effect.

In a groundbreaking discovery, a young Australian scientist has found that honeybee venom can kill aggressive breast cancer cells in just one hour with minimal damage to other cells.

Written by Longjam Dineshwori |Updated : September 9, 2020 9:58 AM IST

Breast cancer is the most commonly occurring cancer among women and the second most common cancer overall after lung cancer. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), breast cancer impacts 2.1 million women each year and causes the greatest number of cancer-related deaths among women. In 2018, breast cancer killed 627,000 women, which comprises approximately 15% of all cancer deaths among women. Triple-negative breast cancer is considered to be more aggressive than other types of breast cancer, and there is still no clinically effective targeted therapy for this kind of cancer. The good news is that a young Australian scientist has found the cure in honeybees.

Dr Ciara Duffy, a 25-year-old scientist from the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research and The University of Western Australia, has found that venom from honeybees can kill aggressive and hard-to-treat breast cancer cells without harming healthy cells. Dr Duffy believes that this groundbreaking discovery could lead to an effective treatment for triple-negative breast cancer, which accounts for 10 20 percent of all breast cancers.

Some facts about triple-negative breast cancer

In the case of triple-negative breast cancer, the growth of the cancer is not fueled by the hormones estrogen and progesterone, or by the HER2 protein. Therefore, such type of cancer usually tests negative for estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors, and excess HER2 protein. Hormonal therapy medicines or medicines that target HER2 protein receptors are not effective against triple-negative breast cancer.

Also Read

More News

Because there are fewer targeted medicines, people with triple-negative breast cancer have a poorer prognosis than those with other types of breast cancer. It is also more likely to spread beyond the breast and more likely to recur after treatment. Generally, triple-negative breast cancer is treated with a combination of surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Doctors and researchers have been working on finding new medications that can neutralize such hard-to-treat breast cancer cells.

Dr Duffy found that the honeybee venom can kill the cancer cells in just one hour with minimal damage to other cells. The findings have been published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Precision Oncology.

The key compound in bee venom can be reproduced synthetically

For the research, Dr Duffy harvested venom from 312 honeybee hives from Australia, Ireland and England, and examined its effect on various types of breast cancer. According to Dr Duffy, Perth bees are among the healthiest in the world.

The honeybee venom was found to be extremely effective in killing aggressive breast cancer cells at concentrations that aren't as damaging to normal cells. Melittin is the key ingredient in the venom that had the killing effect, and Dr Duffy said it can be reproduced synthetically.

Dr Duffy also found that melittin can shut down the signaling pathways of triple-negative and HER2 cancer cells within 20 minutes. These signaling pathways are fundamental for the growth and replication of cancer cells, she explained.

Melittin interfering with signaling pathways within breast cancer cells means it can inhibit/reduce cell replication.

In another key finding of the study, melittin was able to effectively reduce tumour growth in mice when used in combination with existing chemotherapy drugs.

Although the findings have been hailed as 'exciting', other scientists stressed the need for further testing.

Total Wellness is now just a click away.

Follow us on