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Bee Venom Targets Cancer

Melittin from bee venom is being used to kill cancerous cells and tumors. Washington University School of Medicine in Saint Louis researchers are using bee venom to shrink or slow the growth of tumors in mice. They have targeted the tumors with nanotechnology. Bee venom is attached to nanospheres. Nanobees are injected into the bloodstream. The spheres bypass healthy cells and seek infected cells to release the melittin.

Melittin released by the nanobees avoids the toxic side effects of older cancer therapies like chemotherapy. The Journal of Clinical Investigation published the study last summer. Melittin slowed tumor growth by 25% and shrank tumors by 88% in mice with skin or breast cancers, and reduced precancerous lesions by 80%. Healthy cells showed minimal toxicity to the treatment.

Dr. Wickline, consulted Dr. Paul Schlesinger, a professor of cell physiology and biology in advising Dr Soman.  Dr. Schlesinger suspected that nanoparticles would attach readily to melittin. Melittin is a natural host-defense peptide, known to have anti-cancer properties. Dr. Soman found that melittin quickly forms a stable bond with the lipid layer of nanoparticles. Half of the melittin on nanobees was still circulating after 200 minutes. Release of melittin is accomplished with a ligand. The ligand seeks a receptor plentiful in new blood vessels. Tumors form new blood vessels to feed and grow, called the enhanced permeability and retention effect of tumors.

The experiments appeared to destroy the cancer cells by apoptosis. Chemotherapy causes necrosis and can damage other parts of the body. The research showed no significant sign of organ toxicity. Nanobees allowed researchers to inject what would be a lethal dose. Dr. Soman discovered the positive results in 2007 whie at Washington University. Dr. Soman took a job with biotechnology giant, Amgen Inc. Nanobee technology was licensed to Kereos Inc.

Dr. David Hoskin, cancer research at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia says the results are “pretty impressive and unique.” “The delivery technology they’ve developed allows for relatively long-term persistence of these peptides in the body and their specific targeting to tumor sites.”



Soman NR, Baldwin SL, Hu G, Marsh JN, Lanza GM, Heuser JE, Arbeit JM, Wickline SA, Schlesinger PH. Molecularly targeted nanocarriers deliver the cytolytic peptide melittin specifically to tumor cells in mice, reducing tumor growth. Journal of Clinical Investigation. August 10, 2009 (advance online publication).

Funding from the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association supported this research.

  • CNN, "'Nanobees' destroy cancer cell by delivering synthesized bee venom to tumors," www2. Counton2.com, 19 August 2009.
  • Discovery News, "'Nanobees' Zap Tumors With Real Bee Venom," Blogs.DiscoveryChannel.co.uk, 24 August 2009.
  • Wolf, Catherine, "Researchers use bee venom, nanotechnology to kill cancer cells," PublicBroadcasting.net, 13 August 2009.
  • Victoria Anisman-Reiner, “Nanotechnology Kill Cancer Cells With Bee Venom,” 28 August 2009
  • Ericson, Gwen, “Tumors feel the deadly sting of nanobees,” 10 Aug 2009

Nanotechnology Kills Cancer Cells With Bee Venom: Cancer Research Using Biomedical Nanotech Promises Hope of a Cure http://cancer.suite101.com/article.cfm/nanotechnology_kills_cancer_cells_with_bee_venom#ixzz0d66ISGQy