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What’s in a beehive that naturally slows prostate cancer?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
A compound that comes from propolsis in beehives slow prostate cancer growth.

Researchers have isolated a natural compound in beehives that can slow the spread of prostate cancer that can be purchased over the counter. The compound, caffeic acid phenethyl ester, or CAPE that comes from propolis is a popular herbal remedy that hasn’t gained acceptance from the scientific community simply because researchers haven’t known how it acts on cells.

Propolis is sold as a supplement. According to MedLinePlus, its use dates back to 350BC. The resin that also comes from the buds of poplar and trees with cones has been found to be “possibly useful” treating cold sores, genital herpes and treating pain and inflammation after mouth surgery.

Other uses for propolis for treating cancer, tuberculosis, colds, burns, intestinal upset and other conditions have not been proven, though it is known to have anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties.

Propolis shuts down nutrition sensing ability of prostate cancer cells

Cancer cells thrive on nutrients to grow, but in order to do that they have to receive the right signals.

In mouse studies, the researchers discovered Caffeic acid phenethyl ester or CAPE from propolis stopped tumors from growing.

Richard B. Jones, PhD, assistant professor in the Ben May Department for Cancer Research and Institute for Genomics and Systems Biology and senior author of the study said in a media release, “So it doesn't kill the cancer, but it basically will indefinitely stop prostate cancer proliferation." The researchers found if they stopped feeding CAPE to the mice, their prostate cancer tumors started growing again at the same speed as before the treatment.

"It's only recently that people have examined the mechanism by which some of these herbal remedies work," Jones said. "Our knowledge about what these things are actually doing is a bit of a disconnected hodge-podge 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."

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Over-the-counter compounds are sold for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effect, but, those statements don’t leave consumers with knowledge about the full biological effect of herbal remedies and other natural treatments.

Dr. Jones was able to find out how valuable the beehive extract might be for fighting prostate cancer by using his own invention called the “micro-western array” that allows researcher to look at hundreds of cell proteins at the same time, compared to the standard Western blot that only gives scientists a look at one or just a few proteins at a time.

"What this allowed us to do is screen about a hundred different proteins across a broad spectrum of signaling pathways that are associated with all sorts of different outcomes. You can pick up all the pathways that are affected and get a global landscape view, and that's never been possible before," Jones said. "It would have taken hundreds of Westerns, hundreds of technicians, and a very large amount of money for antibodies."

CAPE was able to stop the proliferation of human prostate cancer cells in lab cultures and also in mice. Jones said it appears to work because it …”stops the ability of prostate cancer cells to sense that there's nutrition available.” The compound reduced the rate the prostate cancer growth by half after six weeks.

Jones says clinical trials are needed before caffeic acid phenethyl ester, or CAPE that comes from propolis in beehives could be is proven to work in humans. It may be that the compound could be used in conjunction with chemotherapy

Cancer Prevention Research: doi: 10.1158/1940-6207.CAPR-12-0004-T
"Caffeic acid phenethyl ester suppresses the proliferation of human prostate cancer cells through inhibition of p70S6K and Akt signaling networks”
Chih-Pin Chuu, et al.
May 1, 2012

Propolis: What is it?

Image credit: Morguefile