How Bee Venom Might Fight Cancer

Researchers use synthetic form to safely attack tumors

By Shelley Hazen,  Newser Staff

Posted Aug 13, 2014 6:46 PM CDT

(Newser) – Locked within the honeybee’s painful sting is a toxin that could fight cancer, CNN reports. Though in its early stages, research shows that venom from bees, snakes, and scorpions can stop the growth of cancer cells. University of Illinois scientist Dipanjan Pan has taken the research one step further by eliminating the toxin's dangerous side effects (swelling, blood clots, heart damage), which have stymied its use as a cancer treatment. His team synthetically replicated the cancer-fighting element in bee venom called melittin—there’s too little of it to use the natural stuff, the American Chemical Society explains.

Pan "tightly packed" this synthetic melittin into a nanoparticle to keep the toxins from leaking into the blood stream and causing trouble. "These particles, which are camouflaged from the immune system, take the toxin directly to the cancer cells, sparing normal tissue," Pan says. The treatment would turn tumors into unavoidable targets while leaving healthy cells alone. Pan will now test these venom-infused nanoparticles on cancer cells in rats and pigs. Human tests will follow, and the whole process could take up to five years. Ultimately, Pan’s find could lead to new cancer drugs. (The most painful place to get stung? The nostril.)

A honeybee gathers pollen from a flower.
A honeybee gathers pollen from a flower.   (AP Photo/Peter M. Fredin)
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