Honeybee Venom Kills Aggressive Breast Cancer Cells, Study Shows
A new study out of Australia found that honeybee venom rapidly killed the cells for triple-negative breast cancer, a type of breast cancer that currently has few treatment options.
"It provides another wonderful example of where compounds in nature can be used to treat human diseases," said Western Australia Chief Scientist Professor Peter Klinken in a Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research press release.
The research, published in Nature Precision Oncology Tuesday, was led by Dr. Ciara Duffy of the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research and the University of Western Australia.
Perkins and @uwanews researcher Dr Ciara Duffy has found that honeybee venom can induce cancer cell death in hard t… https://t.co/N29IwLsu0s— The Perkins (@The Perkins)1599006977.0
As far back as 1950, bee venom was shown to kill tumors in plants. It has also been shown to work against other cancers like melanoma, BBC News explained. However, Duffy said in the press release that this was the first time honeybee venom had been tested against every type of breast cancer cell, as well as normal breast cells.
Duffy and her team tested both the venom itself and a synthetic version of a compound in the venom called melittin. They found that both were effective against triple-negative breast cancer and HER2-enriched breast cancer cells. In fact, a certain concentration of honeybee venom could kill 100 percent of cancer cells without seriously impacting healthy ones.
"The venom was extremely potent," Duffy said.
Duffy explained to Australia's ABC News how the melittin worked.
"What melittin does is it actually enters the surface, or the plasma membrane, and forms holes or pores and it just causes the cell to die," Duffy said.
The researchers also found that the melittin interfered with the cancer cells' messaging system, which is essential for the cancer to reproduce and grow.
The fact that melittin makes holes in the cancer cells actually means it could potentially be paired with existing chemotherapies that would enter the cancer cells through the openings it carved and kill them. Duffy found this treatment strategy worked to shrink tumors in mice.
However, outside scientists cautioned that there is a big difference between killing cancer in a lab and successfully treating it in humans.
"It's very early days," Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney associate professor Alex Swarbrick told BBC News. "Many compounds can kill a breast cancer cell in a dish or in a mouse. But there's a long way to go from those discoveries to something that can change clinical practice."
Duffy agreed that more research had to be done before the melittin could be used on human patients.
"There's a long way to go in terms of how we would deliver it in the body and, you know, looking at toxicities and maximum tolerated doses before it ever went further," she told ABC News.
For the study, Duffy gathered venom from 312 honeybees and bumblebees in Perth, Western Australia; England; and Ireland.
"Perth bees are some of the healthiest in the world," she said.
She found that the national origin of the honeybees did not alter their venom's impact on the cancer. The bumblebee venom, however, had no cancer-killing powers.
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Hundreds of endangered sea turtles were stranded on beaches after suffering "cold stunning" in the waters off Cape Cod, Mass. Local rescuers and wildlife rehabilitators stabilized the turtles at the New England Aquarium (NEAQ) and National Marine Life Center and began treatment. Many of the sea turtles were transported by land or air to partner facilities around the Eastern Seaboard for longer-term care to make room for more incoming, cold-stunned animals.
Rehabilitators at The Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys assess critically endangered, cold-stunned Kemp's ridley sea turtles flown in after rescue in New England. The Turtle Hospital<p>NEAQ and local rescuers begin seeing turtles every fall when water temperatures drop to that 50 degrees F threshold, and typically expect to find them into early January. After that, <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/sea-turtle-cape-cod-weather-2621527394.html" target="_self">temperatures are so cold that any animals found are usually no longer alive</a>.</p><p>Merigo estimated that this year's cold season "looks very busy" and noted that local rescue efforts had already surpassed 400 turtles.</p><p>"It is a lot of animals. They're still coming in," she told EcoWatch as she surveyed 39 rescued turtles that day and 20 the day prior. "So far, this is a huge year."</p><p>At NEAQ, the turtles are gradually warmed up about five to 10 degrees F a day. More aggressive warming can cause serious damage and the turtle might not survive, Merigo said. Emergency treatments also include providing replacement fluids, balancing electrolytes and addressing pneumonia. Assessments take place for other serious problems too, such as shell or limb fractures, frostbite, emaciation and eye damage.<span></span></p><p>As local aquariums don't have the capacity to care for all the injured turtles, a group of private pilots called <a href="https://www.turtlesflytoo.org/" target="_blank">"Turtles Fly Too"</a> donated planes, fuel and time to transport some to various partner facilities around the country. Other turtles were driven to closer care facilities.</p><p>"We have a huge network of really great partners working with us, so if we can spread out the care, we can give better care to all the animals," Merigo said.</p><p>The 40 Kemp's ridley sea turtles recovering in The Turtle Hospital will continue to be treated and rehabilitated anywhere from 30 days to a year, depending on the severity of injuries, Zirkelbach said.</p><p>The turtle expert noted that while she's treated cold-stunned turtles from the north before, the newest arrivals were the most cold-stunned Kemp's ridleys ever received at one time.</p>
After rescue, cold-stunned sea turtles received immediate emergency care and assessments at the New England Aquarium. Caitlin Cunningham / New England Aquarium<p>In the past decade, the Gulf of Maine, which spans from Cape Cod to Nova Scotia, has warmed 99 percent faster than the rest of the ocean, Zirkelbach said. The warm water encourages turtles that migrate north along the Gulf Stream in warmer months to stay in the bay longer.</p><p>"Turtles that fail to migrate south get stuck in the unique horseshoe-shaped topography of the Cape Cod peninsula, and when temperatures drop, the bay becomes a death trap," she added.</p><p>Before ocean temperatures warmed, the waters of Maine were too cold for many of these sea turtles, Merigo echoed. Now, with warming sea surface temperatures, Maine can reach the high 70s to low 80s, which is "perfect turtle temperature," she said. The potential for more turtles getting trapped in the bay and then cold-stunned is nerve-racking for Merigo.</p><p>In addition to shifting habitats as waters warm, warming global temperatures also disrupt natural gender balance in sea turtles, Merigo warned. Gender is determined by the temperature of eggs in nests, and as the planet warms, it will result in all females at some point, she said.</p><p>"The turtles we work with are all endangered and threatened," Merigo said. "For sea turtles in general, the future is a little grim. Climate change is real; it does impact them."</p>
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