Wasps are known to be unpopular insects. Because of painful stingers and their intrusive nature, wasps especially annoy us at various picnics in summer. In contrast to bees they are connected to laziness and gluttony.
But maybe now it’s time to change our opinion about wasps. It is believed that wasp poison could attack cancer cells, while leaving healthy cells intact.
Polybia paulista is a species of eusocial wasp occurring in Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. This wasp is responsible for producing cancer-targeting toxin called MP1 (Polybia-MP1). According to new research, it exploits the atypical arrangement of fats, or lipids, in cancer cell membranes. Their abnormal distribution creates weak points where the toxin can interact with the lipids, which ultimately pokes gaping holes in the membrane. These are sufficiently large for essential molecules to start leaking out, like proteins, which the cell cannot function without.
Brazilian wasp venom kills cancer cells, but not healthy cells
The toxin has so far been tested on model membranes and examined using a broad range of imaging techniques.
More about how this toxin selectively remove cancer cells in Biophysical Journal.
But why would toxin harm only cancer cells, not healthy cells?
In a healthy cell membrane, the inner layer is packed with phospholipids, including PS (phosphatidylserine), and PE (phosphatidylethanolamine). However, in cancer cells, PS and PE are located on the outer layer of the cell membrane, pointing in the opposite direction.
If you want to try out the various effects of PS and PE in the presence of a cell, scientists examined how the MP1 interaction with model membranes imbued with PE and / or PS. The presence of each of the phospholipid have a devastating effect on the cells. PS increased possibility MP1 binding to a membrane by a factor of seven to eight. The presence of PE inflated size of the hole by MP1 created by a factor of 20 to the 30th.
These large pores are big enough to allow critical molecules such as RNA and proteins to easily escape cells. Enhancement of the permeabilization induced by the peptide in the presence of PE and the dimensions of the pores in these membranes was surprising.
Cancer therapies that attack the lipid composition of cell membranes constituted a completely new class of anti-cancer drugs
The next stage for this research is to adjust the amino acid sequence of MP1 to see what gives it its selective properties, and to try and refine them. This peptide has the potential to be safe, but further research would be required to prove that.
Hopefully with the help of Brazilian wasps cancer will shortly be disease of history.
More info: iflscience