Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Fighting Cancer with Venom

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Fighting Cancer with Venom

Article excerpt

Bee, snake, or scorpion venom could form the basis of a new generation of cancer-fighting drugs, scientists say. They have devised a method for targeting venom proteins specifically to malignant cells while sparing healthy cells, reducing or eliminating side effects that the toxins would otherwise cause.

"We have safely used venom toxins in tiny nanometer-sized particles to treat breast cancer and melanoma cells in the laboratory," says Dipanjan Pan of the University of Illinois at Urbana--Champaign, who led the study. "These particles, which are camouflaged from the immune system, take the toxin directly to the cancer cells, sparing normal tissue." Venom contains 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 disease, other researchers have reported. Pan and his team say that some of substances found in venom could be effective anti-tumor agents. But just injecting venoms into a patient would have side effects. Among these could be damage to heart muscle or nerve cells, unwanted clotting, or, alternately, bleeding under the skin. So Pan and his team set out to solve this problem.

He says that in the honeybee study, his team identified a substance in the venom called melittin that keeps the cancer cells from multiplying. …

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