Healthcare Technology Featured Article

June 28, 2010

Healthcare Technology and News: Is Melittin the Answer to a Cure for Cancer?

If you are one of those with a weak Immune System, which just can’t produce enough of antibodies to ward off infection, then you may have cause to smile, as synthetic antibodies could well be used somewhere in the future to compensate for the inability of the body to produce enough of the virus and bacteria-fighting proteins.
Scientists at the University of California at Irvine have taken a very small step in that direction and are trying to create plastic antibodies that can halt the spread of deadly bee venom.
Bee venom contains a toxic peptide called melittin that causes cells to rupture, and if large quantities of the venom are present, it can lead to organ failure and even death.
What the scientists are actually trying to do is create nanoparticle-size plastic polymers that will encase the melittin, and capture the antigens before they are dispersed in the body.
Initial tests conducted on a group of mice have been fairly successful in reducing deaths caused by bee venom. For this purpose scientists injected one group of mice with a lethal dose of melittin, and followed it up with the plastic antibodies. Mice in a separate control group, which were injected with the toxin but not the antibodies, did not survive.
However, the rodents in control group, which were injected with the toxin and the antibodies, apparently seemed to suffer no ill effects, seeming to indicate that the plastic antibodies had done their work. This was regarded as an encouraging sign. 
According to UCI chemistry professor Kenneth Shea, who worked on the project along with scientists from Stanford University and Japan’s University of Shizuoka., the nanoparticles succeeded in “capturing” the antigens before they could disperse, thus greatly reducing deaths among the rodents
Shea added that never before had synthetic antibodies been shown to effectively function in the bloodstream of living animals, and the technique could be utilized to make plastic nanoparticles designed to fight more lethal toxins and pathogens.
The detailed findings are available in a recent issue of the Journal of the American chemical Society, which designed the antibodies using a technique called “molecular imprinting.” What this technique did was to link melittin molecules with small molecules called monomers making it into a long polymer chain. After hardening of the plastic, the melittin was removed and the nanoparticles had small melittin-shaped holes.
When injected into the mice, the imprinted nanoparticles enveloped the matching melittin molecules before the toxin could wreak havoc on the creatures.
The concept is indeed very interesting and does call for more work to be done in this field. If successful, plastic antibodies could have application beyond bees and mice.
But the plastic antibodies could have applications beyond bees and mice. Not only can the synthetic antibodies be created faster and more cheaply, but would in all likelihood also have a longer shelf life.
Melittin, may be life threatening, but its benefits are tremendous. Because the substance is known to kill cells, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have harnessed it to destroy tumor cells.
Their research involved attaching melittin to nano-sized spheres they called “nanobees,” which were injected into mice with cancerous tumors. The results of the findings seem to be positive, for the nanobees not only lessened the growth and size of the cancerous tumors, but also prevented the cancer from developing.

Mini Swamy is a contributing editor for HealthTechZone. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Erin Harrison
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