This Wasp Venom Can Kill Cancer Cells

The brazilian wasp Polybia Paulista Credit: Prof Mario Palma

Insect and plants have evolved all sorts of unique and nasty chemicals, but toxins often prove useful in the right concentrations. Wasps may be one of the least popular insects around, but the Brazilian social wasp, Polybia paulista, apparently harbours a 'smart', anti-cancer drug within its venom. 

Research has uncovered that the wasp's venom contains a key toxin called MP1, and that this chemical that can selectively destroy certain cancer cells but spare healthy ones. Mp1 kills by punching holes in the membrane of cancer cells, which exhibit a unique lipid signature in comparison to their more compliant neighbours. These pores spill out critical molecules, and the cell dies. Initial laboratory tests indicate that the molecule can suppress the growth of prostate and bladde cancer, as well as resistant leukaemia.

“Cancer therapies that attack the lipid composition of the cell membrane would be an entirely new class of anti-cancer drugs. This could be useful in developing new combination therapies, where multiple drugs are used simultaneously to treat a cancer by attacking different parts of the cancer cells at the same time"

Anti-cancer therapies are relying more and more on the cocktail approach, hitting cancer with multiple drugs. Every new route of attack increases the likelihood of successful treatment, decreasing the risk that some cells might remain which could cause a relapse in the future. The researchers did mention that while in the study the molecules appears to spare healthy cells, more testing would need to be conducted to confirm its safety. 

Read more at The Guardian