Bee Toxins to Fight Cancer

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The sting of a bee may eventually be used to kill cancer cells. Australian scientists are modifying bee venom to develop cancer treatments with fewer side effects than other drugs used to fight the disease.

The venom in the bee sting contains mellitin, a molecule that kills cells by slicing through the cell walls, destroying the cells. Australian researchers have altered the structure of the mellitin molecule to remove the part that causes the allergic reaction while still maintaining its ability to kill cells.

The next step is to target the killing activity of mellitin to cancer cells only, without harm to healthy cells. They plan to achieve this by attaching the modified mellitin to an antibody molecule that specifically recognizes cancer cells. This combination of a toxin and an antibody is known as an immunotoxin.
Aim to Make it More Effective Than Chemotherapy

Larissa Doughty using a cell culture to grow antibodies which will be joined to the modified bee venom protein (mellitin) �CSIRO Molecular Science

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While most people would avoid contact with bees, in Beijing, China, patients are lining up outside hospitals to receive bee sting therapy, a practice which dates back over three thousand years! The process involves placing live bees on a patient�s body at certain pressure points and was legalized in 2007.

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Similar in both technique and principles to acupuncture, bee stingers replace the traditional needles; the difference lies in the bee toxin, which transforms the treatment into an injection-like procedure.

At the Kang Tai Bee Clinic doctors firmly believe that this type of natural medicine has been highly effective in the cure and treatment of many ailments, including rheumatism and arthritis.

�The bee therapy has an obvious effect on patients with bone and joint diseases. This treatment relies mainly on the bees� poison, which can help blood circulation, reduce inflammation and ease pain,� says Wang Jing, a doctor at this traditional medical facility in northeast Beijing.

Not just any bee can qualify for bee treatment therapy. The clinic maintains a facility on its premises, which houses a specific hybrid of the species with 0.3 mm-long stingers, which contain 0.3 mg of toxin.

The treatment is simple. Tweezers allow doctors to remove bees from the hive. One by one, they are placed on the different pressure points of the pain-target area. The bee does its thing and promptly dies, leaving the stinger iintact for several hours. It is within this time frame that patients experience significant relief from pain and discomfort.

Bee sting therapy requires rigorous training. How long the stinger remains in the patient�s body and how many bees should be utilized are important decisions that determine the success or failure of this ancient natural treatment.

A patient can be stung as many as one hundred times and as little as four or five, depending on the type of ailment and the number of pressure points involved.

This unique procedure costs about 120 yuan (about $18 US), which is infinitely cheaper than conventional medical therapies. According to the doctor at the clinic, more than 90% of their patients either recover or feel much improved after receiving treatment.

�After I am stung by the bees, the pain is gone by the afternoon. My legs feel lighter. It becomes easier to walk and my legs do not feel swollen,� says Han Lide, a patient suffering from diabetic inflammation of the veins.

So the next time you see a bee, show a little respect, but if it gets too close, find another friend quickly.

If the the $1.3 million project succeeds, immunotoxins will generate a new class of cancer drugs that can attack a wide range of cancer cells. This approach should overcome the major drawbacks of chemotherapy treatment.

They want to make immunotoxins that can attack a wide range of cancer cells. This approach should overcome the major drawbacks of chemotherapy treatment.

Chemotherapy drugs are not specific; they attack normal cells thereby causing unwanted side effects such as hair loss, vomiting and weight loss. Such symptoms limit the amount of drug that can be administered and hence its effectiveness.

The concept of molecules such as immunotoxins as "magic bullets" for cancer treatment is not new. Scientists have created a number of immunotoxin drugs with toxins derived from plants and bacteria. These immunotoxins, however, produce a number of serious side effects that limit their clinical application.

Mellitin appears to be far less toxic than the plant and bacterial toxins used in earlier work. New immunotoxin drugs from it may reduce potential side effects while still retaining the specific killing of target cancers.

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Author: Alan Berk
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