Friday, May 4, 2012

Beehive extract can be used to treat cancer

Sometimes, new treatment strategies can be derived from the most unusual places. Such is the case for a new prostate cancer drug, which scientists obtained from beehives. Apparently, the hives of honeybees contain a substance that can be isolated and used to treat patients. At least, that is what preliminary data from mouse experiments suggests. Previous studies already showed that grape seed extract can be used to treat tumours.

The active substance from beehives that shows anti-tumour potential is called caffeic acid phenethyl ester, or CAPE for short. Mice with tumours mimicking human prostate cancer were fed with CAPE-containing food on a daily basis, and their progress was tracked for a couple of weeks. The scientists, working at the University of Chicago, showed that CAPE treatment resulted in arrested tumour growth. It did not kill the cancer cells, however, instead it just prevented the tumour from acquiring the nutrients needed to grow bigger.
Tumours have a high demand for nutrients, as they grow exceptionally fast. Tricking them into thinking there is no food, which is basically what CAPE does, is therefore an excellent treatment strategy. Researchers showed that after discontinuing CAPE treatment, the cancer resumed its original growth pattern. A next step would be to actually starve the tumour, which is an experimental therapy currently being tested for breast cancer.

It is interesting to see how natural occurring substances find their way into the clinic. There are probably many more potential drugs awaiting our discovery in the natural world, but the question is whether we will find them. While CAPE is another promising example for cancer treatment, additional drug therapy is needed to actually kill the tumour. Scientists think CAPE can be administered to patients in combination with conventional cancer killers such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Of course, because the substance has only been tested in mice so far, it is necessary to perform clinical trials first. 

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