Using Wasp Venom To Fight Cancer

A Brazilian social wasp, known as Polybia paulista, is being used in the race to find a cure for cancer.


In the wild the wasp protects itself from predators by generating a powerful venom called MP1 (Polybia-MP1).  A group of researchers headed by Paul Beales of the University of Leeds in the UK and João Ruggiero Neto of São Paulo State University in Brazil has found that the venom almost instinctively hunts out cancerous cells while avoiding any healthy ones.

They explain that MP1 interacts with lipids that are abnormally distributed on the surface of cancer cells, leaving holes that allow molecules crucial for cell function to leak out.  “Cancer therapies that attack the lipid composition of the cell membrane would be an entirely new class of anticancer drugs.” says Beales.  MP1 can inhibit the growth of prostate and bladder cancer cells as well as multi-drug resistant leukemic cells.  In healthy cell membranes, phospholipids called phosphatidylserine (PS) and phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) are located in the inner membrane facing the inside of the cell, but in cancer cells PS and PE are embedded in the outer membrane facing the cell’s surroundings.

Through extensive testing they found that 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.

“Formed in only seconds, these large pores are big enough to allow critical molecules such as RNA and proteins to easily escape cells,” says Neto.

As for the future, the scientists hope to altar MP1’s amino acid sequence to better understand the peptide’s structure and behavior.  They hope that in combination with other cancer therapies they will be able to finally get a grip on this increasingly common disease.

The easiest way to think of all this is to imagine a prison cell, the MP1 supposedly creates holes for the nasty stuff in the cell to slip out.  The only thing is these nasty bits are both inhabitants as well as structural support, and once the support is gone, in theory, the rest of the cell should collapse with a slight nudge, in this case, by other forms of therapy.

How do you feel about this?  Should we be using toxic venom to fight toxic cells?  Should we focus more on prevention than reaction?  Let us know below or on Facebook, or join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #DMTalk.

W D King


Walter king is a sushi enthusiast. A cat lover. A star gazer. An ex-skateboarder, with the destroyed knees to prove it. A local boy raised in Hawaii. He spent much of his youth listening to art bell, infecting his brain with all matter of gray area thought provoking ideas like time travel, collective consciousness, and who can forget: Bigfoot. He's a loving husband and first time father. A movie junkie. A cliff diving, mud slinging, midday dreamer. He also kind of dabbles in indie film production, music production, and photography. He is survived by his unflinching whit and dry sense of humor.

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