A powerful "smart" drug is found in the venom of the Brazilian wasp 'Polybia paulista' that selectively targets and destroys tumor cells without harming normal cells, according to a study.
The poisons has been shown to suppress the growth of prostate and bladder cancer cells as well as leukemia cells resistant to drugs according to laboratory tests.
The venom contains MP1 toxin that interacts with fat molecules (lipids) that are abnormally distributed on the surface of cancer cells, creating holes that allow molecules crucial for cancer cell function to leak out. In healthy cells, the same fat molecules are hidden on the inside. This means healthy tissue should avoid MP1's attack, the scientists say. The findings are published in the Biophysical Journal
Dr Paul Beales, a researcher from Leeds University, said: "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."
Co-author Dr João Neto, from São Paulo State University in Brazil, said: "Formed in only seconds, these large pores are big enough to allow critical molecules such as RNA and proteins to easily escape cells."
Future studies will examine MP1's structure in more detail and attempt to improve its selectivity and potency. Beales said the laboratory tests suggested that the molecule was harmless to healthy cells and therefore safe, but added: "Further work would be required to prove that."