snake or scorpion venom could form the basis of a new generation of
cancer-fighting drugs, scientists find. They have developed a method for
targeting venom proteins specifically to malignant cells while sparing healthy
ones, which reduces or eliminates side effects that the toxins would otherwise cause.
Pan from the University of
, who led the study, said that they had successfully
used venom toxins in tiny nanometer-sized particles to cure breast cancer and
melanoma cells in the laboratory.
particles, which are camouflaged from the immune system, take the toxin
directly to the cancer cells, sparing normal tissue," Pan said.
report that these venoms have proteins and peptides that, 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
research team says that some of substances found in any of these venoms could
be effective anti-tumor agents. However, just injecting venoms into a patient
would have side effects. These effects include heart muscle or nerve cells,
unwanted clotting or, alternately, bleeding under the skin.
team set out to solve this problem. In the honeybee study, the team discovered
a substance in the venom called melittin that keeps the cancer cells from
make so little venom that it's not possible to extract 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.
carried out computational studies to figure out how melittin would work inside
a nanoparticle. They did the test and injected their synthetic toxin into
nanoparticles. They explain, "The peptide toxins we made are so tightly packed
within the nanoparticle that they don't leach out when exposed to the
bloodstream and cause side effects."
What they do is go directly to the tumor, where
they bind to cancer stem cells, blocking their growth and spread. According to the team, the next step is to
examine the new treatment approach in rats and pigs. Eventually, they hope to
begin a study involving patients. He estimates that this should be in the next
three to five years.