Wasp sting could help fight some cancers
Getting stung by the Brazilian wasp Polybia paulista may not be such a bad thing if you have cancer, research suggests.
The wasp's venom contains a powerful "smart" drug that selectively targets and destroys tumour cells without harming normal cells, a study has shown.
In tests, it has been shown to suppress the growth of prostate and bladder cancer cells, as well as leukaemia cells.
Scientists found that the MP1 venom toxin blows gaping holes in the protective membranes surrounding tumour cells by interacting with fatty molecules called lipids.
"Cancer therapies that attack the lipid composition of the cell membrane would be an entirely new class of anti-cancer drugs," said researcher Dr Paul Beales, from the University of Leeds.
"This could help in developing new therapies, where multiple drugs are used simultaneously to treat a cancer by attacking different parts of the cancer cells at the same time."
The unique way certain lipids are embedded on the outside of cancer cell membranes makes tumours susceptible to the wasp toxin, the researchers found.
In healthy cells, the same structural molecules are located on the inner membrane surface.
When MP1 binds to the lipids, it disrupts the membrane structure, creating holes through which molecules vital to a cancer cell's survival leak out.
Co-author Dr Joao Neto, from Sao Paulo State University, said: "These large pores are big enough to allow critical molecules such as RNA and proteins to easily escape cells."