The Busy Bees Fighting Cancer

Prostate cancer stopped by caffeic acid phenethyl ester molecule

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) There may be a some truth to the old naturalist belief that the answer to all of humanity's problems is out there somewhere, if we just knew where to look.

Caffeic acid phenethyl ester (CAPE) may sound like a molecule synthesized in a laboratory, but honeybees make it to fix holes in the walls of their hive.

"Ask your oncologist about recent drug developments."

From this unlikely source, molecular evidence shows that prostate cancer cells in mice stop dividing entirely in the presence of the CAPE molecule.

Research published by the University of Chicago's Cancer Biology program supports the anti-cancer claims, although only in a laboratory setting.

Even when there is a large amount of anecdotal evidence, the scientific process involved in proving any natural remedy is a long and thankless process. First, you have to figure out what exactly you have, which is a lot harder than it sounds. Then you purify and briefly test all of the molecules present, comparing them against other drugs to see if you can guess how they work.

This type of research takes years and a lot of funding, but it is the process that lead to nearly every drug available today.

Whether antibiotics or aspirin, our drugs all come from this process of taking an element found in nature and purifying it. It was not until the last decade that a few drugs been created entirely by human design, and with limited success.

Richard Jones, PhD, co-author of the study, commented on the research process. "Our knowledge about what these things are actually doing is a bit of a disconnected hodgepodge of tests and labs and conditions. In the end, you're left with a broad, disconnected story about what exactly these things are doing and whether or not they would be useful for treating disease."

"A typical problem in bringing some of these herbal remedies into the clinic is that nobody knows how they act, nobody knows the mechanism, and therefore researchers are typically very hesitant to add them to any pharmaceutical treatment strategy," Jones said.

"Now we'll actually be able to systematically demonstrate the parts of cell physiology that are affected by these compounds."

While many natural remedies are disregarded after further study, in this case scientists found that even when honeycomb was eaten, it was possible for the molecule to enter the bloodstream and influence cancer cells directly.

Conclusions from the laboratory research found that the CAPE molecule did indeed have a unique effect against prostate cancer in mice, attacking a cancer protein called p70S6 kinase. By attacking this particular protein, CAPE stops the cancer cell from dividing.

It may not be a cure, but it's a significant step and could prove to be useful in future prostate cancer therapy.

"If you feed CAPE to mice daily, their tumors will stop growing. After several weeks, if you stop the treatment, the tumors will begin to grow again at their original pace," Jones stated.

"So it doesn't kill the cancer, but it basically will indefinitely stop prostate cancer proliferation."

The paper was published May 4, 2012 in the journal Cancer Prevention Research.

No financial disclosures by the research team were made.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 9, 2012
Last Updated:
May 11, 2012