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Wasp Venom for Breast Cancer?

Early research evaluates cytotoxic peptide

Scientists at the Institute for Biomedical Research in Barcelona, Spain, have conducted in vitro experiments using wasp venom to kill tumor cells. The next step will be to test its efficacy in animal models.

To combat the serious side effects associated with current cancer therapies, as well as the potential for drug resistance in tumors, the investigators developed a potential new therapy based on a peptide — the binding of several amino acids — from wasp venom. Their work was published in the Journal of Controlled Release.

“This peptide has the ability to form pores in the cell plasma membrane, to penetrate into the cell, and to cause its death, either by necrosis or by triggering apoptosis — programmed cell death,” said lead author Dr. Miguel Moreno.

However, at first this powerful “natural weapon” couldn’t be used because of its toxicity and lack of cell specificity; that is, it would damage not just tumor cells, but healthy cells as well. Therefore, the researchers designed a way to transport the peptide to tumors and make it accumulate in a controlled manner.

The “transport system” consists of a carrier polymer with two components: a peptide that binds to human epidermal growth factor receptor-2 (HER2) protein receptors, which are over-expressed in some types of breast cancer tumor cells, and the cytotoxic peptide of the wasp venom.

In vitro experiments have shown that the substance is adequately distributed within tumor cells and causes their death, whereas healthy cells, such as red blood cells, are unaffected.

Although these results are promising, the research is in its very early stages, the authors say. The next step is to test the treatment’s in vivo efficacy in mice.

Sources: Medical Xpress; July 5, 2014; and JCR; March 12, 2014.

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