Bees and snakes and scorpions, oh my. These somewhat scary creatures, however, could form the next generation of cancer-fighting drugs.
Scientists at the annual National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) have reported that bee, snake or scorpion venom could be used to fight malignant cancer cells while sparing the healthy cells.
"We have safely used venom toxins in tiny nanometer-sized particles to treat breast cancer and melanoma cells in the laboratory," said Dipanjan Pan, lead researcher of the study. "These particles, which are camouflaged from the immune system, take the toxin directly to the cancer cells, sparing normal tissue."
Researchers say that venom from these creatures, when separated from other components and tested individually, can attach to the membranes of cancer cells that would block the growth and spread of the disease while leaving normal cells untouched.
These substances could be used as anti-tumor agents. Additionally, they would be more targeted, and therefore have less side effects than treatments such as chemotherapy.
Pan and his team used melittin to keep cancer cells from multiplying. Melittin is naturally found in bees, but a bee produces so little venom that it is not feasible to extract it from the bee itself.
Then the team used computational studies to test how the melittin would work inside a nanoparticle. They found that after injecting the synthetic melittin, the toxin was so tightly packed inside the nanoparticle that it didn't leach out and cause side effects.
Then the nanoparticles go to the tumor where they bind the cancer stem cells and block their growth and spread.
Pan suggested that other peptides that mimic other venoms could also work well as a cancer therapy.
He said the next step is to use the treatment in rats and pigs and then potentially in patients.
If it works, this treatment could pave a totally new direction for cancer-fighting without as many side effects for the patient.
Venoms have a history of being used in treatment of aliments. As early as 14 BC, bee venom was used to cure baldness while traditional Chinese medicine uses frog venom to fight certain types of cancers. In Cuba, doctors have used scorpion venom to fight brain tumors.