In the walls of beehives, study finds a tool against cancer

A UCMC study has found a substance called CAPE in beehives that inhibits cancer cell growth.

By Jennifer Standish

A six-week study on mice has led U of C researchers to believe that there may be potential anti-cancer qualities in the compound bees use to maintain their hives.

The compound, caffeic acid phenethyl ester, or “CAPE”, inhibits cancer cell proliferation by hindering the cells’ ability to sense nutrition necessary for tumor growth. Unlike most healthy cells, cancer cells use all of the nutrition available to them, even when traditional cues would say they do not need it.

“CAPE seems to shut off the cells’ proliferative response to nutrition and cells enter a senescent state and are just hanging out,” said Richard Jones, assistant professor at the Ben May Department for Cancer Research and senior author of the study. “This is kind of a trick to make them think that there is no nutrition available so that they stop proliferating.”

Herbal remedies to cancer, such as CAPE, are becoming increasingly attractive as safer and more holistic replacements to radiation and chemotherapy.

“Our hope is that these natural kinds of products might be different than a standard pharmaceutical treatment because we’re not targeting a specific molecule,” said Jones.

Assistant professor of surgery at the U of C Medical Center Scott Eggener authored a study that took a different approach at investigating potential ways to decrease the financial and health costs of traditional prostate cancer treatment.

Eggener and his colleagues found a lack of adherence to a 2005 U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendation against screening men aged 75 or older. The task force strived to avoid treatment that does little to prevent death.

Because of unnecessary screenings, “there’s an incredible downstream financial impact of screening, diagnosing, and screening prostate cancer,” Eggener said.

The study found that despite the USPSTF’s recommendations, physicians and patients felt that the benefits of screening outweigh risk of superfluous treatment and, consequently, the amount of men screened has not decreased.

“We were able to show that a lot of older, sicker men are being screened for prostate cancer inappropriately. And paradoxically, younger, healthy men who probably have the most to benefit from screening are being screened at a much lower rate,” Eggener said.

If herbal remedies such as CAPE had no side effects and was proven effective, Eggener would recommend screening all men at a young age. However, prostate cancer research seldom leads to actual clinical availability.

In order to determine if CAPE is the exception, Jones and his group of researchers are looking “to prove to a National Institutes of Health grant study section that we have sufficient information in animals to warrant them to provide us funding for humans.”

The research was made possible by Jones’s unique “micro-western array” technology, an innovative method of protein analysis that allows researchers to look at hundreds of proteins at once.