Bee toxin takes the sting out of cancer

Fir0002/Flagstaffotos [creativecommons license] via Wikimedia Commons

One challenge in cancer treatment is to balance toxicity with specificity: potential therapies must be toxic enough to damage rapidly dividing cancer cells yet specific enough to not harm other tissues. Cytolytic peptides are small proteins that are drawn to cell membranes and destroy them by creating structural defects that cause the cells to break apart. The peptides have antibiotic, anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties, and their mechanism of action is such that cells cannot easily develop resistance to them. These characteristics make them potentially valuable in cancer treatment if they can be effectively targeted to tumors. Melittin is a particularly toxic but nonspecific cytolytic peptide that naturally occurs in the venom of the honeybee (Apis mellifera). In a new study, researchers packaged melittin in nano-spheres to deliver it directly to tumor cells without harming other tissues.

Lab Anim. (NY) 38, 312 (2009).
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