A New Breakthrough in Breast Cancer Therapy: Wasp Venom

In Brief:

  • A peptide in wasp venom called Mitoparan can kill cancer cells, but it degrades in blood and can also kill off healthy cells.
  • When attached to certain compounds and proteins, Mitoparan prevents degradation and targets breast cancer cell.
  • Wasp venom has potential for treating breast cancer.

Imagine yourself strolling through a beautiful park. Surrounded by nature, you smell the fresh air and let the sun hit your face. Suddenly, you hear a familiar buzzing and immediately turn pale. You see a venomous wasp and are tempted to run away. Research may soon cause you to reconsider how you look at wasps: their venom is being explored as a treatment for breast cancer.

In lab studies, scientists discovered that when cells and wasp venom interact, the venom interrupts the cell’s energy-producing process and creates gaping holes in the cell membrane. Everything inside the cell oozes out, and the cell eventually dies.

Scientists can use the poison in wasp venom to kill cancer cells. They know, however, that using pure wasp venom presents two problems: the venom immediately degrades when it touches the body’s blood, and it will also kill off any healthy, normal cells in the body.
The Effect of Wasp Venom on Cells
In the process of designing a way to use wasp venom to treat breast cancer, Spanish scientists at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine in Barcelona have solved these problems. These scientists learned that a peptide called Mitoparan in wasp venom is the culprit that kills cells. According to Miguel Moreno, “This peptide has the ability to form pores in the cell plasma membrane, penetrate into the cell and finally, cause its death.”  To ensure that Mitoparan reaches the cancer cells, the scientists attached other molecules to the venom to preserve it as it travels through the body. Among these molecules is a protein that specifically targets breast cancer cells. This protein allows the cell-killing venom with Mitoparan to attach only to breast cancer cells, leaving healthy cells alone. 

Other teams of researchers are also investigating how wasp venom can be used to treat cancer. For example, Paul Beales from the University of Leeds notes “cancer therapies that attack the lipid composition of the cell membrane would be an entirely new class of anticancer drugs. This could be useful in developing new combination therapies, where multiple drugs are used simultaneously to treat a cancer by attacking different parts of the cancer cells at the same time.” The research from these and other scientists show the exciting possibilities of wasp venom as a cancer treatment.

Who would have guessed that something as angry and dangerous as a wasp could help us fight breast cancer? So next time you take a stroll through the park, pay careful attention; you might be looking at another one of Mother Nature’s powerful medicines just waiting to be discovered.

Works Cited

  1. Moreno, Miguel, Giralt, Ernest. “Three Valuable Peptides from Bee and Wasp Venoms for Therapeutic and Biotechnological Use: Melittin, Apamin and Mastoparan.” Toxins (Basal) 7, no. 4 (2015): 1126-1150. Accessed August 17, 2016. doi: 10.3390/toxins7041126
  2. Moreno, M., Zurita, E., Giralt, E. “Delivering Wasp Venom for Cancer Therapy.” Journal of Controlled Release 182 (2014): 13-21. Accessed August 17, 2016. doi:10.1016/j.jconrel.2014.03.005
  3. “A New Therapy for Breast Cancer is Being Designed Using Wasp Venom.” SINC. Last modified August 4, 2014. http://www.agenciasinc.es/en/News/A-new-therapy-for-breast-cancer-is-being-designed-using-wasp-venom.
  4.  “Brazilian Wasp Venom Kills Cancer Cells by Opening Them Up.” Science Daily.com. Last modified September 1, 2015. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/09/150901134941.htm

Image Credits:
Feature Image: cSw Staff Illustrator Abby Bateau
Story Image: “Mitochondria https://pixabay.com/en/biology-cell-organelle-cells-1293878//” by Anonymous https://pixabay.com/en/users/OpenClipart-Vectors-30363/ (Edited). License: CC0 1.0
Other Graphics by Staff Illustrator, Lucia Tian

Chief Editor: Aparna Ragupathi
Creative Team Coordinator: Sreya Das
Team Editor: Wendy Wu
Team Graphic Designer: Lucia Tian

This article was written by Faizah Chowdhury. As always, before leaving a response to this article please view our Rules of Conduct. Thanks! -cSw Editorial Staff

Author: Faizah Chowdhury

Hello, everyone! I have previously written for Curious Science Writers, and I can attest that this is truly a wonderful home for inspiration, both for readers and writers! I am currently a senior in high school, and I have a strong passion for learning about science, and writing this article made me fall in love with this field even more. In addition to writing and science, I also have a passion for DIY crafting and volunteering with elementary school students in an aftercare program. I hope my article and the many other stories on this website inspires you to learn more about the fields of science and the ground-breaking research scientists produce every day.

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you, this is helpful knowledge as I was just stung 18 times by wasps who attacked me when I picked up an old piece of wood. This is day 4 and the symptoms change everyday which I read may last up to 7 days. I am amazed how the venom has traveled through my body. I wondered if it could be a cancer causing relation. My Mom passed away with breast cancer and I am in fear of having the BRACA gene. This is good to know after all the pain and suffering symptoms.

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