Though the honey, obtained from nectar collected by honey bees from manuka trees found in New Zealand, has been recognised for its anti-bacterial and wound healing properties for many years, it has never been investigated for its potential effects on cancer cells, said a UAE University official.
He said that the ground-breaking discovery provides strong scientific evidence, noting that the discovery had been made in a research conducted by a team of prominent researchers from the College of Medicine and Health Sciences at the UAE University (UAEU).
The research, he said, has also highlighted the honey's potential property of reducing the toxic side effects associated with chemotherapy treatment in cancer patients.
Lead researcher Dr Basel Al Ramadi, professor and chairman of the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, said that the team used three different cancer cells in the research.
"[It] demonstrated that the addition of exceedingly small amounts of manuka honey, as little as 1.0 per cent, can stop the growth of cancer cells," Gulf News quoted him as saying.
The researchers then carried out an extensive series of experiments to uncover the molecular basis of manuka's anti-cancer activity.
"Our findings provided conclusive evidence that manuka acts directly by inducing apoptosis, or programmed cell death, in cancer cells," said Professor Al Ramadi.
Apoptosis is a physiological process that all multicellular organisms use to balance their need for new cell generation with the elimination of old unwanted ones. This process is tightly regulated so that, in adult tissues, cell death exactly balances cell division.
"If this were not the case, excessive apoptosis causes tissue atrophy, whereas insufficient apoptosis would lead to uncontrolled cell proliferation, such as in cancer," he explained.
The manuka honey induces the death of cancer cells through the same physiological process used by the human body to maintain normal cell numbers, he said.
In the course of their investigation that began more than five years ago, he said, the researchers also successfully used an animal tumour to demonstrate the potential effect of manuka honey in experiment.
Professor Al Ramadi said that his team is optimistic about what these new developments may mean in terms of potential new treatments for certain types of cancer.
Their study was recently published in an international scientific journal.