There’s a reason beekeepers wear bonnets and it’s not to protect them from the sun. Bee’s sting . . . and enough of their bites can kill you. Multiple their venom by a gazillion and you’re talking about the sting from a Brazilian “social” wasp.
Turns out, that’s not so bad. Brazilian wasp venom kills cancer cells but not healthy ones.
The wasp responsible for producing this toxin is the Polybia paulista. It’s called MP1 (Ploybia-MP1) and until now, how it selectively eliminates cancer cells was unknown.
A new study reveals exactly how the venom’s toxin — called MP1 (Polybia-MP1) — selectively kills cancer cells without harming normal cells. MP1 interacts with lipids that are abnormally distributed on the surface of cancer cells, creating gaping holes that allow molecules crucial for cell function to leak out. According to new research, it exploits the atypical arrangement of fats, or lipids, in cancer cell membranes. Their abnormal distribution creates weak points where the toxin can interact with the lipids, which ultimately pokes gaping holes in the membrane.
These holes are sufficiently large enough for essential molecules to start leaking out, like proteins, without which the cell cannot function..
MP1 acts against microbial pathogens by disrupting the bacterial cell membrane. Serendipitously, the antimicrobial peptide shows promise for protecting humans from cancer; it can inhibit the growth of prostate and bladder cancer cells, as well as multi-drug resistant leukemic cells. However, until now, it was not clear how MP1 selectively destroys cancer cells without harming normal cells.
“Cancer therapies that attack the lipid composition of the cell membrane would be an entirely new class of anticancer drugs,” says co-senior study author Paul Beales, of the University of Leeds in the UK. “This could be useful in developing new combination therapies, where multiple drugs are used simultaneously to treat a cancer by attacking different parts of the cancer cells at the same time.”
The toxin has so far been tested on model membranes and examined using a broad range of imaging techniques.
MP1 appears to be safe and to selectively target cancer cells while leaving healthy cells unharmed, but more research is needed before the treatment is tested in humans. However the researchers envision the substance being used as part of newer combination therapies designed to attack different parts of cancer cells simultaneously.
Wasp venom is only one type of venom being used to treat disease. So far only about 1,000 venom toxins have been studied, resulting in a handful of medications that are currently on the market. It’s a long process, as each venom may contain up to 100 toxins, each of which targets specific receptors on human cells.