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article imageVenom may act as a cancer-fighting drug

By Tim Sandle     Aug 13, 2014 in Science
A new study suggests that bee, snake, or scorpion venom could form the basis of a new generation of cancer-fighting drugs.
Researchers have devised a method for targeting venom proteins specifically to malignant cells while sparing healthy ones. This step reduces or eliminates side effects that the toxins would otherwise cause.
Venom from snakes, bees, and scorpions contains proteins and peptides which, when separated from the other components and tested individually, can attach to cancer cell membranes. That activity could potentially block the growth and spread of the disease.
In a research note, Dipanjan Pan, who led the study, said: “We have safely used venom toxins in tiny nanometer-sized particles to treat breast cancer and melanoma cells in the laboratory. These particles, which are camouflaged from the immune system, take the toxin directly to the cancer cells, sparing normal tissue.”
Pan’s team found that some substances found in venom could be effective anti-tumor agents. However, simply injecting venom into a patient would have side effects. Among these could be damage to heart muscle or nerve cells, unwanted clotting or, alternately, bleeding under the skin. Thus Pan set out to solve this problem.
For example, in a honeybee study, the research group identified a substance in the venom called melittin that keeps the cancer cells from multiplying. Bees make so little venom that it’s not feasible to extract it and separate out the substance time after time for lab testing or for later clinical use. That’s why they synthesized melittin in the lab.
To understand out how melittin would work inside a nanoparticle, the researchers conducted computational studies. Following this, they ran a test and injected their synthetic toxin into nanoparticles. As the peptide toxins were tightly packed within the nanoparticle they did not leach out when exposed to the bloodstream and cause side effects. Instead the practices went directly to the tumor, where they bound to cancer stem cells, blocking their growth and spread.
The researchers plan to examine the new treatment approach in rats and pigs. Eventually, they hope to begin a study involving patients.
The report was presented to August’s 248th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society.
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