An ingredient of the venom that is contained in the sting of a bee called melittin has been known for years to have anti-tumor properties. However, before now scientists were unable to find a way to use it because it also attacked vital healthy cells such as red blood cells.
A breakthrough has now been found as scientists have been able to make use of nanotechnology in order to turn this into a treatment that may help prevent death in some patients that are suffering from cancer.
The treatment works by attaching melittin to nanoparticles which creates something that the researchers have named nanobees. This is then injected into the bloodstream of the patient and the nanobees find the cancer cells which the melittin attacks.
The nanobees are attracted to newly formed blood vessels and this may explain why they seem to search out tumors. The tumor itself will use blood vessels to feed itself and grow.
The advantage that this form of treatment can potentially have over chemotherapy is that the cancer cells are destroyed through a process known as apoptosis which allows the cells to die naturally.
There are forms of chemotherapy that can cause cancer cells to die through external causes and this is more likely to cause damage to other parts of the body.
Use of this treatment could prevent cancer patients suffering the many side effects that chemotherapy brings as it will only be the cancer cells that are targeted.
Experiments using this treatment have so far only been carried out on mice but results have been extremely promising.
In almost all cases the tumors that the mice had either stopped growing or began to shrink when the nanobees were injected into their blood stream.
Experts believe that it may only be another few years before trials can begin with humans.
A synthetic form of melittin will be used and this will help avoid any issues that may arise in patients that are allergic to bee stings.