Nature is full of medicine, and with a staggering 50 percent of us likely to receve a cancer diagnosis within our lifetimes, it’s time to start paying more attention to the healing potential of the natural world. For example, did you know that 25 percent of the active ingredients in cancer drugs are found only in the Amazon? This is despite the fact that only 10 percent of plants in this rainforest have been studied for their medicinal properties.

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And it’s not only plants that are making noise when it comes to a potential cancer treatment. A new study from a team of researchers at the University of Brazil has found that a toxin contained within the sting of a wasp kills cancer cells without harming any of the healthy ones. This is similar to a little-known Chinese herb that was found to kill off cancer cells at a rate of 12,000 cancer cells for every healthy cell. Bee venom, on the other hand, has been found to destroy the HIV virus.

How It Works

The venom in the wasp contains a molecule called MP1. Scientists already know that MP1 can inhibit the growth of certain cancer cells (like prostate, bladder, and leukemia), and that it does not harm healthy cells.

It is able to do this by interacting with lipids, or fatty molecules, which are abnormally distributed on the surface of cancer cells.  The presence of these lipids acts as a cancer “signpost,” distinguishing such cells from regular, healthy cells, whose lipids are located within the cell walls. Co-researcher Dr. Paul Beales, from the University of Leeds, said cancer therapies that attacked 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.” (source)

According to

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“The researchers tested their theory by creating model membranes, some of which contained PE and/or PS [lipids that are mentioned above], and exposing them to MP1. They used a wide range of imaging and biophysical techniques to characterize MP1’s destructive effects on the membranes. Strikingly, the presence of PS increased the binding of MP1 to the membrane by a factor of 7 to 8. On the other hand, the presence of PE enhanced MP1’s ability to quickly disrupt the membrane, increasing the size of holes by a factor of 20 to 30.” (source)
As of now, the venom has been shown to be selective to cancer cells in the lab, but more work is needed to see if it is truly effective and safe for human trial.
The study was published in the Biophysical Journal.

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