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Bee venom has been highly regarded for its multiple benefits against many human ailments, and if a new research study is anything to go by, it can form the basis of treatment for breast cancer as well.

Bee venom from various species found all over the world has often been repurposed because of several medicinal properties which help in the reduction of inflammation in the body, to more complicated illnesses such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease as well as ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). Besides the use of bee venom to treat these afflictions, many types of cancers as well as HIV have also been treated with alternative medicinal methods that involve its use.

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And now, a new study published in the journal Nature Precision Oncology has found that the venom from honeybees can be an effective agent in killing off breast cancer cells. Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer among women around the world as one in four women diagnosed with cancer are found to have this form of the disease.

Melittin, which forms a major part of the venom produced by honeybees, is responsible for the pain that one feels when stung by a bee, and contains various peptides and enzymes in it. Researchers studying this vital component of the venom have found that it was able reduce the growth and size of the cancer in a laboratory setting.

Melittin, the major compound found in honeybee venom, contains as many as 26 different amino acids and is known for its antiviral, antibacterial and anticancer properties ever since the first studies were conducted in the 1950s.

  1. Effects of melittin on breast cancer cells

The research was carried out by scientists at the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research and the University of Western Australia, and involved the use of venom from as many as 312 honeybees and bumblebees from Ireland, England and Perth in Western Australia.

Dr Ciara Duffy, one of the lead researchers behind the study, explained that the effects of honeybee venom on different kinds of breast cancers hadn't been tested in the past. "We tested honeybee venom on normal breast cells, and cells from the clinical subtypes of breast cancer: hormone receptor positive HER2-enriched and triple-negative breast cancer," she was quoted as saying in a media statement.

Read more: Types of breast cancer

"We found that venom from honeybees is remarkably effective in killing some of these really aggressive breast cancer cells at concentrations that aren't as damaging to normal cells," Dr Duffy added. The HER2-enriched and triple-negative breast cancers are considered to be two of the more aggressive forms of breast cancer that grow at an alarming rate and are difficult to control or eliminate.

While the new discovery has been found to be exciting by the scientific community, further tests and research needs to be carried out to monitor its effectiveness on the deadly disease outside laboratory settings to be able to validate these results for treatment in human beings.

The scientists were able to reproduce melittin artificially and found it to be equally effective against cancer cells as the naturally produced agent found in honeybee venom. They further found out that melittin was able to destroy all cancer cell membranes within an hour of being administered, and had no negative effects on healthy cells. The peptide melittin was also able to reduce the potency of cancer cell growth and cell division and their communication in as short a duration as 20 minutes.

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