The title of today’s post comes from a Rudyard Kipling poem, and it seemed appropriate as we review the results of a clinical study for Parkinson’s disease…involving bees! Much has been written about the medicinal properties of the lovely honey that bees make. The healing properties of the sweet produce of our little friends seems to cure all ailments.
Today’s post, however, is not about honey.
No, today’s post is about the other thing bees are known for: their sting!
Earlier today a group of researchers in Paris (France), published the results of a clinical trial in which they gave bee venom to people with Parkinson’s disease for 11 months.
Title: Bee Venom for the Treatment of Parkinson Disease – A Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial.
Authors: Hartmann A, Müllner J, Meier N, Hesekamp H, van Meerbeeck P, Habert MO, Kas A, Tanguy ML, Mazmanian M, Oya H, Abuaf N, Gaouar H, Salhi S, Charbonnier-Beaupel F, Fievet MH, Galanaud D, Arguillere S, Roze E, Degos B, Grabli D, Lacomblez L, Hubsch C, Vidailhet M, Bonnet AM, Corvol JC, Schüpbach M.
Journal: PLoS One. 2016 Jul 12;11(7):e0158235.
PMID: 27403743 (This study is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)
No! What? Bee Venom? Really?
Yeah, I know. Weird, right? But there is actually some logic to the idea.
Bee venom has recently become in vogue for all kinds of health associated products (eg. face masks, etc – click here for more on this), but preclinical experiments have also demonstrated that it can have beneficial effects in models of Parkinson’s disease.
Bee venom (or Apitoxin as it known to the science types) contains some interesting components, one of which is called Apamin.
Apamin. Source: Wikipedia
Apamin is the only component of bees venom that can pass through the blood-brain-barrier and enter into the brain. Once inside the brain, Apamin selectively blocks structures on the membrane of cells called ‘calcium channels’.
Calcium channels allow calcium (surprise) to enter a cell, and control many physiological functions including neurotransmitter release, muscle contraction and cell survival. It has already been demonstrated in models of Parkinson’s disease that Apamin has neuroprotective properties on the dopamine neurons in the brain:
Title: Bee venom and its component apamin as neuroprotective agents in a Parkinson disease mouse model.
Authors: Alvarez-Fischer D, Noelker C, Vulinović F, Grünewald A, Chevarin C, Klein C, Oertel WH, Hirsch EC, Michel PP, Hartmann A.
Journal: PLoS One. 2013 Apr 18;8(4):e61700.
PMID: 23637888 (this article is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)
The researchers in this preclinical study demonstrated that bee venom was protective in models of Parkinson’s disease. When they tested Apamin alone, however, they found that it reproduced the protective effects only partially. They concluded that other components of bee venom must be enhancing the protective action of Apamin.
So what happened in the clinical trial?
The researchers in France conducted a randomized double-blind study (meaning that nobody – researchers included – knew who was getting the bee venom or the saline control solution). They took 40 people with early stage Parkinson disease (Hoehn & Yahr stages 1.5 to 3) and assigned them to either monthly bee venom injections or equivalent injections of saline.
After 11 months of monthly injections, the researchers found that bee venom did not significantly decrease the motor features of Parkinson’s disease (as judged by UPDRS III scores during ‘off’ condition). In addition, brain imaging (DAT-scan) did not differ significantly between treatment groups over the 11 months.
The researchers did, however, see improvements in some of the cognitive measures in subjects receiving the bee venom (albeit non-significant).
In their concluding remarks, the researchers questioned whether lack of significant effect was due to the low frequency of injections (once per month). Maybe the subjects in the trial were simply receiving too little of the treatment for it to have an effect. With the support of more preclinical experimental results, they propose that a larger study is warranted with a higher administration frequency and possibly higher individual doses of bee venom.
Will this happen?
It is unclear at present.
In the study, 4 subjects had immune system responses to the bee venom, so it may be wise to firstly establish what components of bee venom are having any beneficial effect before proceeding with further clinical trials.
The banner for today’s post was sourced from modern.scot