The Brazilian Wasp Venom Can Kill the Cancer Cells, But Don’t Destroys the Healthy Cells

Wasps have painful stingers, and they are not as cute or useful to us like the bees. But, did you know that their venom can attack the cancer cells and leaves the healthy cells alone.

The cancer-targeting toxin in this insect is called MP1 or Polybia-MP1 and until now was unknown how it eliminates the cancer cells selectively. It exploits the atypical arrangement of lipids or fats in the cancer cell membranes, according to one new research. Their abnormal distribution makes weak points where the toxin can get in touch with the lipids, and that ultimately pokes gaping holes in the membrane. These are enough large for the important molecules to start leaking out, as the proteins, which the cell can’t function without.


The wasp that is responsible for the production of this toxin is the Polybia paulista. This toxin has been tested on model membranes and is examined with a broad range of imaging techniques.

Paul Beales, the co-author of the study from the University of Leeds said that the cancer therapies that attack the composition of lipid of the cell membrane will be a completely new class of drugs against the cancer. This will be useful in the development of new combination therapies, where many drugs are used simultaneously in the treatment of cancer by attacking different areas of the cancer cells at the same.

The inner layer in a healthy cell membrane is packed with phospholipids, including PE or phosphatidylethanolamine and PE or phosphatidylserine. In the cancer cells, PE and PS are located on the outer layer, facing the opposite way.

To test the different effects of PE and PS’s presence on a cell, the scientists examined how the MP1 communicates with model membranes infused with PS and/or PE. The presence of each of these phospholipids had a destructive effect on the cells. PS raised the chance of MP1 binding to the membrane by a factor of 7-8. The presence of PE inflated the hole’s size created by a factor 20 -30 by the MP1.

Joao Ruggiero Neto, co-author of the study that comes from Sao Paulo State University, said that these large pores, formed in just a few seconds, are a big enough to permit critical molecules like the RNA and proteins to escape the cells easily. The exciting enhancement of the permeabilization induced by the peptide while the PE is present and the dimensions of the pores in the membranes weren’t expected.

The next level of this research is to modify the amino acid sequence of MP1 in order to see what gives it its selective properties, and to attempt and refine them. Beales said that if they understand the mechanism of the action of the peptide, that will help them in the translational studies to future assess the potential for the peptide to be used in the medicine. It has been discovered to be selective to the cancer cells and non-toxic to the healthy cells in the lab, this peptide can be safe, but they most examine it in the future to prove that.