Everybody hates wasps. They annoyingly buzz around your head, their stingers hurt, and they aren’t as friendly as their distant cousin, the bee.
According to new research, wasps may be on their way to improving that bad rep.
Scientists have found the wasp’s venom attacks cancer cells, while leaving healthy cells alone. The cancer-targeting toxin in the wasp is called MP1 (Polybia-MP1) and until now, how it selectively eliminates cancer cells was unknown.
The toxin beelines (sorry) towards the fats, or lipids, in cancer cell membranes. The abnormal distribution of the toxin creates weak points in the cell, where the toxins interact with the lipids, resulting in the cells membrane being poked with holes. These holes are big enough for essential nutrients in the cell to leak out, which the cancer cell cannot survive without.
The wasp responsible for producing this toxin is the Polybia paulista, or the Brazilian wasp.
“Cancer therapies that attack the lipid composition of the cell membrane would be an entirely new class of anticancer drugs,” said Paul Beales from the University of Leeds and co-author of the study.
“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.”
Researchers are now looking to adjust the amino acid sequence of MP1 to see what gives it its selective properties, and will try to refine them.
You can see the all of the team’s research results in the Biophysical Journal.