Urbana-Champaign, Ill. (CBS ST. LOUIS) — Repeated and controlled injections of bee, snake and scorpion venom are buzzing as a new cancer-fighting treatment in which “useful” venom can target malignant cells and block tumor growth.
Dipanjan Pan and his team of researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign say they have found a way to stop cancer cell growth with venom from bees, snakes and scorpions while bypassing healthy cells using “camouflage” to trick the immune system and avoiding unwanted side effects.
“We have safely used venom toxins in tiny nanometer-sized particles to treat breast cancer and melanoma cells in the laboratory,” Pan said in a statement. “These particles, which are camouflaged from the immune system, take the toxin directly to the cancer cells, sparing normal tissue. The research team released a paper this week at the American Chemical Society conference in San Francisco.
“The peptide toxins we made are so tightly packed within the nanoparticle that they don’t leach out when exposed to the bloodstream and cause side effects,” Pan added.
The healthy cells are bypassed by the camouflaged toxin and packed tight enough into the nonparticle that no problems are caused and the material is only attracted to the cancer cells.
Venom from bees, snakes and scorpions contains proteins and peptides that can attach to cancer cells and block tumor growth.
“If we can use that power in our favor then that would be wonderful,” said Pan. “The main point is how can we control their potency, they are potent and that’s why they are deadly.”
The venom binds to the cells and prevents further growth, and honey bee venom specifically appears to stop the cancer stem cells. Previous studies have also shown that venom can block the spread of cancer but Pan’s researchers are pushing to harness the anti-cancer properties and inject it into a drug. Venom injection itself is likely to cause serious side effects such as damage to heart muscle, nerve cells or bleeding under the skin.
“That’s what we are interested in — those are the cells responsible for metastasizing and also responsible for having the cancer cells grow back,” Pan told CNN. “If we can target better using this technique, we potentially have a better cancer treatment.”