Because of their painful stingers and their scary appearance, wasps get their fair share of bad press. However, after people hear about their special power, they may just start to like and appreciate them.
Believe it or not,the venom of the wasp has been shown to attack cancer cells without harming the healthy ones.
Polybiapaulista is the wasp responsible for producing this toxin. This wasp protects itself against predators by producing venom that contains a powerful ingredient that is able to fight against cancer.
Even though the process of eliminating cancer cells is unknown, the toxin that has cancer-treating properties is called MP1 (Polybia-MP1). According to some recent research, this toxin is able to exploit the atypical arrangement of fats or lipids in cancer cell membranes.
Weak points are being created due to their abnormal distribution, where the toxin can interact with the lipids and ultimately pokes gaping holes in the membrane. According to the studyco-author Dr. Joao Neto of SaoPaulo State University in Brazil, the large holes need just seconds to form.
Unfortunately, due to their size essential molecules, like proteins, start leaking out. The cell cannot function without these essential molecules.
MP1 acts against microbial pathogens by disrupting the bacterial cell membrane. After a period of time, the antimicrobial peptide shows promise for protecting humans from cancer.
Besides inhibiting the growth of prostate and bladder cancer cells, it also inhibits the multi-drug resistant leukemic cells. However, until now, it was not discovered how the MP1 was able to destroy cancer cells without harming the healthy cells.
According to Beales and the co-senior study author Joao Ruggiero Neto, the reason might have something to do with the unique properties of cancer cell membranes. Healthy cell membranes contain phospholipids that go by the name phosphatidylserine (PS) and phosphatidylethanolamine (PE).
They are located in the inner membrane leaflet facing the inside of the cell. However, when a person suffers from cancer, PS and PE are embedded in the outer membrane leaflet facing the cell surroundings.
In order to test their theory, researchers created model membranes. The model membranes contained PE and PS, and were then exposed to MP1. In order to characterize MP1’s destructive effects on the membranes they used a wide range of imaging and biophysical techniques.
By a factor of 7 to 8, the presence of PS increased the binding of MP1 to the membrane. On the opposite, 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.
According to Neto, these large pores are formed in seconds and are big enough to allow critical molecules, such as RNA and proteins, to easily escape cells.
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The dynamic enhancement of the permeabilization induced by the peptide in the presence of PE and the dimensions of the pores in the membranes were surprising.
In order to examine how the peptide’s structure relates to its function, the researchers plan to alter MP1’s amino acid sequence in future studies. They also want to further improve the peptide’s selectivity and potency for clinical purposes.
According to Beales, in order to help in translational studies to further assess the potential for this peptide to be used in medicine, they first need to understand the mechanism.
This peptide has the potential to be safe since it has been sown to be selective to cancer cells. However, if they want to prove that, more work is required.
You are able to see the team’s research results in the Biophysical Journal. Paul Beales states that cancer therapies that attack the lipid composition of the cell membrane would be entirely a new class of anti-cancer drugs.
While multiple drugs are used simultaneously to treat cancer by attacking different parts of the cancer cells at the same time, this could be useful in developing new combination therapies. This could be a new medical revolution.