HONEYBEE venom is the latest tool in the fight against breast cancer.
New research shows the venom induces cancer cell death in hard to treat triple-negative breast cancer with minimal effect on healthy cells.
The University of Western Australia's Ciara Duffy used the venom from bees from Australia, Ireland and England and tested its effect on subtypes of breast cancer.
"No-one had previously compared the effects of honeybee venom or melittin across all of the different subtypes of breast cancer and normal cells," Dr Duffy said.
"We found both honeybee venom and melittin significantly, selectively and rapidly reduced the viability of triple-negative breast cancer and HER2-enriched breast cancer cells.
"The venom was extremely potent," Dr Duffy said.
A specific concentration of honeybee venom can induce 100% cancer cell death, while having minimal effects on normal cells.
"We found that melittin can completely destroy cancer cell membranes within 60 minutes."
Melittin in honeybee venom also had another remarkable effect; within 20 minutes, melittin was able to substantially reduce the chemical messages of cancer cells that are essential to cancer cell growth and cell division.
While there are 20,000 species of bees, Dr Duffy wanted to compare the effects of Perth honeybee venom to other honeybee populations in Ireland and England, as well as to the venom of bumblebees.
"I found that the European honeybee in Australia, Ireland and England produced almost identical effects in breast cancer compared to normal cells. However, bumblebee venom was unable to induce cell death even at very high concentrations.
In the future, studies will be required to formally assess the optimum method of delivery of melittin, as well as toxicities and maximum tolerated doses.