September 02, 2020

Venom from honeybees has been found to rapidly kill aggressive and hard-to-treat breast cancer cells, according to groundbreaking new Australian research. [1]

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide. [2] Approximately 1.7 million new cases were recorded globally in 2012. [6] Since 2008, worldwide breast cancer incidence has increased by more than 20 percent. Mortality has increased by 14 percent. [5]

Honeybee macro image by skeeze from PixabayThe research showed a specific concentration of the venom killed 100 per cent of triple-negative breast cancer and HER2-enriched breast cancer cells within 60 minutes, while having minimal effects on normal cells. Triple-negative breast cancers (TNBCs, lacking the expression of estrogen and progesterone receptors, as well as human epidermal growth factor receptor 2, HER229 [4]) are aggressive and associated with the poorest outcomes. 

Published in the journal Nature Precision Oncology, the research was conducted at Perth's Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research by Dr Ciara Duffy as part of her PhD.

The European honeybee (Apis mellifera) has been the source of a number of products used medicinally by humans, such as honey, propolis, and venom for thousands of years. [3]

In 2017, research found whole bee venom or melittin could be an effective antimicrobial agents for B. burgdorferi. [7]

Key points:

  • The research found honeybee venom was effective in killing breast cancer cells (in vitro)
  • Researchers say the discovery is exciting and future research will bring them closer to a medical solution


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The study also found when the venom's main component was combined with existing chemotherapy drugs, it was extremely efficient at reducing tumour growth in mice.

Dr Duffy hopes the discovery could lead to the development of a treatment for triple-negative breast cancer, which accounts for 10 to 15 per cent of all breast cancers and for which there are currently no clinically effective targeted therapies.

She said the honeybee venom had proven extremely potent.

An important note to consider is it worked in a petri dish, which doesn't mean it works in humans, and means it will be some time before it is tested and available to work in humans.


[1] - Duffy, C., Sorolla, A., Wang, E. et al. Honeybee venom and melittin suppress growth factor receptor activation in HER2-enriched and triple-negative breast cancer. npj Precis. Onc. 4, 24 (2020).

[2] - Fitzmaurice, C. et al. Global, regional, and national cancer incidence, mortality, years of life lost, years lived with disability, and disability-adjusted life-years for 32 Cancer Groups, 1990 to 2015. JAMA Oncol. 3, 524 (2017) -

[3] - Son, D. J. et al. Therapeutic application of anti-arthritis, pain-releasing, and anti-cancer effects of bee venom and its constituent compounds. Pharmacol. Ther. 115, 246–270 (2007). -

[4] - Prat A, Perou CM. Deconstructing the molecular portraits of breast cancer. Mol Oncol. 2011;5(1):5-23.

[5] - Breast Cancer Research Foundation. 2020. Breast Cancer Statistics And Resources. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 3 September 2020].

[6] - World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research.Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer: a Global Perspective. Continuous Update Project Expert Report 2018. Available

[7] - Socarras KM, Theophilus PAS, Torres JP, Gupta K, Sapi E. Antimicrobial Activity of Bee Venom and Melittin against Borrelia burgdorferi. Antibiotics. 2017; 6(4):31.

Image Credits: 

1. "'TREE OF HOPE' Breast Cancer Survivor Tree SOLD" by jjlcooterpie is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit - Remixed by Christopher Samai

2. Macro Honeybee image by skeeze from Pixabay 


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