Bee toxin sucks, in my opinion. As a young lass I was always scanning the grasses for bees whenever we reached the port. I was quite allergic to them – a sting would leave my foot hugely swollen and painful, and I am significantly better at hopping on my left leg as a result of being stung on my right foot. As I grew older and was stung a few more times, the allergy gradually disappeared and now a sting causes nothing but a bit of pain, and a fierce anger at the entomological world.
Perhaps it is time to let this anger abate, as bee venom may become another warrior in the fight against cancer. Crew, meet Melitten. Melitten, Crew.
Melitten is the major component of bee venom, making up over half of the juices in the sting. It is an anti-inflammatory agent and causes the body to release cortisol, the stress hormone. It’s also cell-lytic, which means that it pokes holes in cells and they leak EVERYWHERE and then die. As you may have noticed, it’s a peptide, and the amino acid sequence is GIGAVLKVLTTGLPALISWIKRKRQQ. That’s 26 amino acids of pain.
It’s the cell-lytic part that’s useful, because it’s really not fussy WHAT it breaks apart. If it has a membrane, Melitten is there and filling it more full of holes than a gangster with a semi-automatic. It can be used as an antibacterial or antifungal, plus as an anticancer agent.
To maximise the “anticancer” part and minimise the “attacking the rest of your body” side-effects, researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have put the toxin onto little nanoballs of perfluorocarbon, which protects it from degradation in the body. By attaching tumour-specific bits and pieces to the nanoball as well, it is more likely to deposit the Melitten load at the site of the cancer, particularly as tumours often have leaky blood vessels. Perfluorocarbon is not new in biomedical science – it is sometimes used in eye surgery, and is an element in artificial blood.
Mouse trials have been successful. You can read more about the nanobees here.