Scorpions, bees, and snakes are all known for their painful stings and, in some cases life-threatening venom, but venom's unique properties could be used for targeting cancer cells. The power of venom has opened up new doors for cancer treatment approaches and the findings will be reported in a video at the 248th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society in San Francisco, Calif., on Monday to thousands of world leaders in scientific research.

Researchers found the proteins and peptides inside venom can attach to cancer cells that promote tumor growth while not harming the surrounding healthy cells. The side effects of the toxins eliminate or reduce unwanted reactions, such as damages to the heart muscles, nerve cells, clotting, or even bleeding under the skin. The venom has the ability to block the growth and spread of the disease.

"We have safely used venom toxins in tiny nanometer-sized particles to treat breast cancer and melanoma cells in the laboratory," the study’s lead author Dr. Dipanjan Pan said in a press release. "These particles, which are camouflaged from the immune system, take the toxin directly to the cancer cells, sparing normal tissue." Pan said his team figured out a way to stop the spread of cancer by injecting patients with a substance in the venom called melittin, which makes the cancer cells stop multiplying.

"The peptide toxins we made are so tightly packed within the nanoparticle that they don't leach out when exposed to the bloodstream and cause side effects," Pan explained. Bees make so little venom that it’s not possible to extract it for clinical lab testing, which is why they devised a way to replicate the melittin substance inside the lab as a synthetic toxin.

Venoms, such as those from snakes and scorpions, work well in the nanoparticle testing, which uses small melittin extractions. They plan to examine their synthetic treatment therapy on rats and pigs inside the lab, and eventually hope to apply the experimental treatment to patients within the next three to five years.

Normally, in the wild, the venom of scorpions affects the nervous system, heart, and blood vessels, and can be very painful when a lot is injected, according to Hadassah Medical Center. It can cause restlessness, muscle cramps, faster pulse rate, increasing damage to the heart, which can eventually lead to heart failure if left untreated. Snakes bites from the viperous family can cause lowered blood pressure, swelling in the respiratory tracts, and trouble with blood coagulation, and with 25 percent of snake bites releasing venom, it’s important to steer clear unless you're seeking its anti-cancer treatments in Pan's laboratory.

Source: Dipanjan P. Controlled and safer therapeutic delivery of venom toxins using well-defined polymeric nanoparticles for cancer inhibition. At The National Meeting of the American Chemical Society. 2014.