Study Finds Potential Therapeutic Benefit of Honeybee Venom in Breast Cancer Cells
Posted: Thursday, October 29, 2020
The peptide melittin in honeybee venom may suppress the growth of triple-negative and HER2-positive breast cancer cells, according to a study published in npj Precision Oncology. Melittin appears to target EGFR and HER2 while sparing normal cells, according to Pilar Blancafort, PhD, of The University of Western Australia, Perth, and colleagues. Honeybee venom (Apis mellifera) has been reported to have antitumor properties, including in melanoma, although how it targets the molecular level of such tumors is not yet clear.
In their study, the presence of melittin in honeybee venom was found to be crucial to treatment against breast cancer cell growth, as honeybee venom lacking melittin was ineffective at destroying cancer cell membranes. In addition, the presence of an antibody against melittin limited the therapeutic effects of the compound, demonstrating the importance of melittin in cancer cell destruction. These findings led to the development of a synthetic version of melittin, which was found to mirror the anticancer benefits of the compound.
To further demonstrate the efficacy of melittin in anticancer therapy, the authors paired it with chemotherapy drugs to determine the impact on cancer cells. And, they found it was active when combined with small molecules or chemotherapies, such as docetaxel. These findings, which demonstrated a reduction in tumor growth, may pave the path to treating additional cancers with overexpression of HER2 and EGFR using honeybee melittin.
“Our work unveils a molecular mechanism underpinning the anticancer selectivity of melittin and outlines treatment strategies to target aggressive breast cancers,” the researchers commented. “Future studies to formally assess toxicities and maximum tolerated doses of these peptides will be required prior to human trials.”
Disclosure: For full disclosures of the study authors, visit nature.com.