Wasp Venom Selectively Assassinates Cancer Cells

By K. N. Smith | September 1, 2015 11:28 am
The Brazilian wasp Polybia paulista. (Credit: Prof. Mario Palma/Sao Paulo State University)

The Brazilian wasp Polybia paulista. Credit: Prof. Mario Palma/Sao Paulo State University

Many wasp species have chemicals in their venom that kill bacteria. In the last few years, researchers have found that some of these chemicals also kill cancer cells, though exactly how they work has remained a mystery.

Now a new study has described exactly how one of these chemicals works its cancer-fighting magic: by tearing holes in the cancer cells’ outer layer.

Marked for Destruction

The venom of the Brazilian wasp Polybia paulista contains a molecule called MP1. It’s been previously found that MP1 can inhibit the growth of prostate and bladder cancer cells, as well as multi-drug-resistant leukemia, but it doesn’t harm healthy cells.

But the question was how. Researchers suspected that the answer lay in the cells’ membranes. That’s because the cancer cells that MP1 targets have two fatty molecules, or lipids, in their external membrane that normal cells don’t have.

These lipids – phosphatidylserine (PS) and phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) – now seem to be the signposts that mark a cancer cell for destruction.

Two-Pronged Attack

To test how MP1 assassinated cancer cells, researchers João Ruggiero Neto and Paul Beales created cell membranes in the lab with PS, PE, or both on their surface. Then they exposed the membranes to MP1.

All the membranes were affected by the treatment, but it turned out that having both PS and PE was the secret combination that made cancer cells vulnerable to MP1. PS allows MP1 to bind to the cell, while PE lets it tear big holes in the cell membrane.

So MP1’s destruction of a cancer cell, researchers say, has two stages. First, MP1 bonds to the outer surface of the cell, and then it opens holes or pores in the membrane big enough to let the cell’s contents leak out. PS is crucial for the first part: seven times more MP1 molecules bound to membranes with PS in their outer layer. And PE is crucial for the second: Once the MP1 molecules worked their way into the membrane, they opened pores twenty to thirty times larger than in membranes without PE.

“Formed in only seconds, these large pores are big enough to allow critical molecules such as RNA and proteins to easily escape cells,” said Neto in a press release. When that happens, the cell dies.

Future Chemotherapy

The results suggest that MP1 might be a good candidate for a future cancer treatment. If it works, it would be the first cancer drug on the market which targets the cells’ lipid membranes. Neto, Beales, and their colleagues say it could be especially useful as part of a combination of drugs, each of which targets a different part of the cancer cell.

Of course, it will be a while before MP1 is ready to fight cancer in humans. First, researchers need to understand more about how it works, and they need to be sure it will be safe for patients.

The results are encouraging so far, however. Antimicrobial peptides like MP1 usually don’t differentiate between cancer cells and healthy cells well enough to be considered as treatments, but in the lab, MP1 killed cancer cells and bacteria without harming normal cells from rats.

“As it has been shown to be selective to cancer cells and non-toxic to normal cells in the lab, this peptide has the potential to be safe, but further work would be required to prove that,” said Beales in a press release.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Living World
  • kazora

    Anything that kills cancer cells is SAFE for patients; c-cells are themselves mortal!

  • Greg Michalski

    This is how it goes doctor beings wasps from japan to u s to study, he unintentionally release ‘ s them into wild, they kill us all…

    • Alan Jones

      Yeah that’s exactly how it goes, d0uchebagge.

      • gsmullennix

        Alan…be nice. It appears that no one yet commenting has anything to add to the story. Greg M. hasn’t given it any thought. There are million and millions like him. Breathe deeply and forgetaboutit.

        • brothervern

          Hey G, I like this response for several reason I deem obvious, credit to you. Although instead of recommending he “forget about it”, I might have suggested he reconsider the many aspects to this story, and come up with something of some merit, something that contributes rather than degrades, something positive, productive, and progressive. I may have even challenged them to it, letting them know they either will do so, or be unable to, by which the could recognize in themselves their smallness by that inability. It generally has them rising to the occasion, but most often the inability. Hope you find my submission of some merit, or at least, entertaining.

          • gsmullennix

            Much like the Ten Commandments, lots of people happy to ignore them or to be nice. Numerous humans have a mean streak and I doubt they would listen to you or me. But, it never hurts to speak up, kindly. Thanks.

    • Cyrus-LU

      Excuese me ,how do you know doctor beings wasps from japan?and which Area of doctor need wasp venom? pleaes help me ,thank you.

  • http://www.mehmetarkingurbuz.com mehmet arkin gurbuz

    I didnt know that before I was catch it when I see it on my table :)

  • Small_Businessman

    It makes a huge difference if the “cure” kills you faster than the disease.

    • LtDan43

      Oh, small, you mean like chemo, and rad? ..also while they are destroying quality of life?

      • Small_Businessman

        Lt Dan, are you trolling, or are you just plain stupid? You obviously know nothing about the subject. Chemo and radiation extend life, not destroy it. Look at the percentage of those who survive cancer now vs. 40 years ago, for instance, thanks in a large part to chemo and/or radiation.

        My wife is one of them.

        • LtDan43

          Well “small”, I am wondering why, since you have no idea who I am or anything about me, that you would see fit to call me names, because I may have a different viewpoint from yours – from my personal experience of selling my company and helping my mom to die of cancer for the last year of her life. Her quality was not too bad – until they convinced us to give her “small” doses of radiation. I am glad for you that your wife did better and sorry you went through that – I know it is not easy and perhaps can make one cranky, so I forgive you for calling me “stupid”.

          BTW, I am not up on the latest fads, so what is trolling?

          • Small_Businessman

            I can tell a lot about you by your posting. And trolling is not a “fad”. You should look it up before you continue. You claim you’re not stupid – so you must be a troll.

          • LtDan43

            Smal, I claimed nothing , I just pointed out your lack of integrity with your irresponsible and continuing boorish behavior. Even though some of your other comments show a certain level of intelligence (maybe there are two of you), it certainly is absent in your name calling poor behavior.

            I am done with you – there are real and important things to be done instead of playing childish games Bye!.

          • http://www.dash.yt/salespacer Sales Pacer

            A Troll is a dwarf like ancient construction in the myths, but many people think that if they are being called a TROLL, it is defamatory, so they use the word Troll in a defamatory way.

            I am proudly trolling :-)…

            My 50 cents..

        • Steve Humphries

          I can add another level to LtDan’s concern for chemo and radiation treatments. I lost one of my best friends for life in January of this year from throat cancer. The cancer treatment center wouldn’t even treat her because they said she wouldn’t even survive the procedure so they told her to contact hospice and just sent her out the door to die. My uncle had lung cancer and died from three different types of cancer caused by his chemo treatments. My neighbor of 40 years died last year of lung cancer. He showed me the burns that went completely through his body from the radiation treatments. The list goes on for even more people I personally knew in my life. I am glad your wife responded well to the treatments but they are not an easy fix. Most of the people with cancer treatments were not cured but possibly gained a few months more of life but at what cost of money and quality they lost. Any type of treatment that could completely eliminate cancer without leaving you as a homeless person and allow you to be restored to perfect health is more than welcome.
          Medicine has come a long way but they are not there yet. I am not cutting them any slack to let them think there is nothing more they can do.
          Call me a troll too if you like. I am sure I have been called worse by better people for most of my life.

      • http://www.dash.yt/salespacer Sales Pacer

        Indeed, @LtDan43:disqus . For some, Chemo and Rad gives life enhancement or extension / prolonging. For others, it goes like Steve Humphries says: The patient dies from combinations of the original cancer and other cancers, caused by the treatments.

        @Small_Businessman:disqus – please do not write in such a hostile manner “..are you just plain stupid?” – it doesn’t suit the purpose of a discussion of any matter to be hostile or aggressive. My mother died of cancer – some of it caused by the treatment. Cancer is by LARGE not at all better than 40 years ago. Solutions on a more biological level, appears to me to be more workable / real. Furthermore, the nature of many cancers can barely be distinguished from the nature of various viral infections; Let me be the second #troll…

  • Small_Businessman

    Quite an interesting article. I hope scientists can find other molecules that attack other types of cancers. Slowly but surely they’re making progress against it.

  • brothervern

    I’m struck simultaneously conflicting thoughts first of which is “Awesome!!” Here it comes baby a cure for cancer in my lifetime. Scientists are awesome, almost awesome as mother nature having at the ready everything required, in all it’s simplicity, in all complexity, the wonder of it all. Second is: so I’m dying of cancer, and you don’t want to use an experimental therapy on me cause your concerned it might harm me…..Hmmm….harm me? More then the cancer? More than chemotherapy, more than an extended bed ridden stay in the hospital, a place disease and sickness prone to the ravages of human error and disregard, where environment and event dictate odds not in your favor? More than the loss of dignity occurred from wasting away till totally dependent on the design of others. More than the blade I’ll surely take to my wrist before I allow any of that to occur? Hey I got cancer! Sign me up. Experiment on me, let me serve some grand purpose in my final hours, something contributes to the global scale, that noble thoughts may lay smile to my face as my eyes close for the final time. And who knows, it might even work! Or provide the missing item that makes it work for some one else, like some ones kid.
    I don’t know, maybe it’s just me. “Make sure it’s safe for humans”, Cracks me up, lets face it life isn’t safe for humans. Like we don’t experiment on humans any more…ooookaaay.
    Another thought….What about the cost? Not money you fool, see how you are. I mean the ramifications, what affect will this have on the population aspect? Say we cure cancer, if all the people who die of cancer every year don’t, what effect will this tender on a global scale, on generation to generation scale, say 4, or 6, or 10 generations down the line? On a planet already skimming a crisis in it’s in ability to sustain food and energy needs, not to mention how evolving new diseases just love a crowd? Think the powers that be will allow that?
    Any ways, back to he awesome part, feels better in my me than t other part. Seeing the cure to cancer in my lifetime would up there with having seen the landing on the moon. Besides what do I care about the cost, I’ll be dead.

    • Small_Businessman

      That you’re missing is that cancer is not an automatic death sentence. There are several good treatments out there already, and millions of people are alive because of them. And, in fact, nowadays scientists are finding not all cancers need to be treated – some are so localized and slow growing the person will more likely die of old age than having problems associated with the cancer.
      But what good is a treatment if it kills you faster than the cancer would? Or if it extends your life – but you’re in a coma? Or what of many other things that can go wrong?

      • http://www.dash.yt/salespacer Sales Pacer

        Unfortunately I think, that you are not right, that millions of people are alive because of the several good treatments. You may be right if you say that some hundreds of thousands are alive because of those several treatments.

    • Cyrus-LU

      Excuese me,Forgive my interrupting ,I dont know what is the right way to empress. I am a graduate of college students, from China.I am breeding wild wasp in the mountains. In Chinese medicine, wasp venom can treat rheumatism rheumatoid disease,If you need or know who need quality wasp venom,please contact me.Its my Email-ydlu@chinaums.com or 841561312@qq.com I’m very glad for the help.

  • Andrew

    chemo is not that safe. I went through chemo for six months, and I prayed that I would not have to do that again. Well, lo-and-behold, I went through chemo AND x-ray the second time, to be honest, I just wanted to die. It is hard to think about that even now

  • Maryann Wood

    All treatments of cancer should be offered for patient’s consideration, even without full FDA approval.

  • Alan Ward

    Keep hearing of these miracle cures that are just around the corner. For the last 30 years. Just who does this benefit? I say keep it to yourself unless it works, has passed all human trials and is available at your local pharmacy. I mean, it’s getting a bit ridiculous.

  • L. Quick

    Sometimes, when reading of revelations such as this, aye feel as if aye am reading of some discovery in Astronomy concerning deep space. Aye say that as somehow these “discoveries” concerning Cancer cures that appear to offer such great promise are seldom if ever heard of again down here on earth.

  • kmtominey44

    Ain’t science wonderful! Even insects have a lot to offer for someone other than birds and bats.

  • Arttai

    Exciting, I see why more test are needed before applied to humans.

  • Cyrus-LU

    Excuese me,Forgive my interrupting ,I dont know what is the right way to empress. I am a graduate of college students, from China.I am breeding wild wasp in the mountains. In Chinese medicine, wasp venom can treat rheumatism rheumatoid disease,If you need or know who need quality wasp venom,please contact me.Its my Email-ydlu@chinaums.com or 841561312@qq.com I’m very glad for the help.

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  • Steve Humphries

    I am not naive to the numbers used in statistics. I had three courses in my university studies so I know the numbers. People are more than numbers especially the people I know. I am not sure of your reasoning behind your perspective but I value your opinion even though I don’t know you. I did know the people I mentioned and the words used were their own not mine. My family has no history of cancer in our genetics so it is not my major concern but I do care about the people who have to face these health issues. Having been a first responder I know that their pain or suffering is more than a number in a government data base and other directions should be considered for treatments instead of giving a whole heartedly approval for what isn’t being done.

    • Small_Businessman

      You’re the one who brought up the statistics. I just pointed out your “statistics” are wrong. That’s not my problem.
      As for being a first responder – I also was an EMT, and know pain and suffering. But my experience is that most people will take some temporary pain and suffering over dying. And whether you like it or not, cancer treatments work. Not 100%, of course. But they do for the huge majority of people diagnosed with cancer.

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    pm me on fb Ralph Derstine Scott City KS

  • Payne Blevins

    How would it affect people that are allergic to bees?

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    Mint is a great herb that has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. Peppermint essential oil has been in use for the last couple of centuries and is believed to have been used extensively by the Romans and Egyptians for its therapeutic benefits.

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