The venomous substance produced by one of the most common wild bee species could help to treat breast cancer, according to scientists in Germany.
Researchers at Goethe University and the LOEWE Center for Translational Biodiversity Genomics in the Hessian city of Frankfurt compared different melittin variants to find out more about the substance’s effectiveness when it comes to treating human illnesses such as cancer.
They said the violet carpenter bee’s melittin was found to have a “promising effect on breast cancer cells.”
The violet carpenter bee is Europe’s main carpenter bee species and one of the biggest bees in the world. This solitary bee genus – which is also native to Asia – can reach a body length of 28 millimetres.
Bee venom has been used in traditional medicine for a long time due to its anti-inflammatory capabilities. Melittin can also damage healthy cells as around a hundred times more effective than cortisone.
Study co-author Dr Bjoern von Reumont from Goethe University Frankfurt said: “In the study, we therefore compared different melittin variants. Some of them are known from the honeybee, others we have newly discovered through our combined analysis of the molecules, the proteins, and the genome of the wild bee venom.”
The scientist from the university’s department of biosciences explained: “The idea for our comparative analysis was that melittin only became so toxic in the course of evolution and that the evolutionarily older wild bees may produce more pristine melittin variants in the venom that are pharmacologically easier to use.”
Prof Dr Robert Fuerst from the Institute for Pharmaceutical Biology at Goethe University added: “The focus of this research was the different modes of action on inflammation and cancer.”
In their study published in the scientific magazine Toxins, the researchers examined the effects of melittin peptides on cell damage.
The research also consisted of investigating the release of messenger substances and inflammatory markers in both cancerous and non-cancerous human cells, according to the study’s first author, Dr Pelin Erkoc-Erik.
Regarding the violet carpenter bee’s venom, the scientists agree that its melittin peptides reveal less aggressive activities which could possibly promise potential for future pharmaceutical applications.
The team of researchers are planning to carry out further investigations on the topic.
Breast cancer is currently one of the most common cancers in the world.
Around 288,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer will have been diagnosed in women in the United States throughout 2022, according to the American Cancer Society. The organisation estimates that almost 43,000 women will have died from the disease by the end of this year.
Britain’s National Health Service reports that breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the United Kingdom, where one woman is diagnosed with the disease every 10 minutes. There are approximately 55,000 cancer diagnoses for men and women in the UK each year.
One in three cancers in women in Germany is breast cancer, according to the country’s Cancer Society. The association underlines that figures have doubled since the 1980s. Every year, around 69,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in Germany.