NEW ORLEANS — If you've ever felt the sting of a bee, you probably never went close to a hive again, but researchers around the world, have been looking into medical treatments with that same venom.
And they've learned it kills breast cancer cells.
So how close are doctors to turning it into a treatment?
Mess with a bee's hive and you risk a painful sting. It’s caused when they inject venom filled with a small piece of a protein called Melittin.
“What it does, it pokes holes in cell membranes. It does that in nerve endings that transmit pain and so it actually is pretty excruciating,” explained Dr. Lucio Miele, Chair of the Department of Genetics at LSU Health Sciences Center and the Assistant Dean for Translational Research, which moves scientific discoveries from the lab to the patient in the clinic setting.
Bees are just defending their home, families and food supply, but now headlines out of Australia announce that honeybee venom kills breast cancer cells in minutes.
So we turned to Dr. Miele who has done decades of breast cancer research. And he says in that study, the bee venom killed breast cancer cells not only in the lab.
“They even gave it to some mice that were bearing breast cancer cells and showed that it does kill breast cancer tumors in the mice," he said.
But Dr. Miele says it's not ready for patients yet. The issue is being able to target only the bad cancers cells.
“The issue with these substances is they have to be given IV. And they're quite toxic. Imagine having a bee sting over your body,” he said about the systemic effects of the venom.
What's new is the Australian researchers did genetically alter the bee venom to target cancer cells, but Dr. Miele says that process still needs to get better.
“This particular substance isn't ready for clinical prime time. We're going to need to do quite a few more animal studies.””
The good news is doctors already have treatments to deliver cancer medicine directly to a tumor. Dr. Miele's lab is working on engineered viruses to carry medicine that targets and kill cancer cells, but today, this latest bee venom study moves science one step closer.
When asked if this is a breakthrough study, Dr. Miele replied, “ No, it is a step forwards in a long long process that actually started about 30 years ago.”
Doctors say there are many different types of breast cancer, with many subtypes of each. And they're still finding more.
So studies now need to be geared towards which types each medicine can and can't treat.