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This Insect’s Defensive Fluid Could Have Medical Applications

May 31st, 2017

You may have heard of the insects known as “blister beetles.” Like so many insects, blister beetles produce a substance that has defensive purposes. This substance is very bitter to the taste. Researchers believe that this bitter substance, called cantharidin, has anti-cancer properties. This substance is found in two different organisms. One of these organisms is, of course, the blister beetle, and the other organism is a type of insect known as the oedemerid beetle.

One problem with developing cantharidin for medical use has to do with the mysterious way in which this substance is formed. Despite heavy research on the topic, researchers are still stumped as to how this substance is formed within the beetle’s body. In order to solve this problem, a study was recently conducted where researchers measured the amounts of cantharidin present in the tissue of blister beetles.  According to the lead researcher, figuring out how the blister beetle’s physiology produces cantharidin is necessary in order for scientists to figure out how to synthesize the molecule themselves.

Cantharidin has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for over two thousand years. During this time it was used to combat cancer-like illnesses. Cantharidin has already been shown to inhibit the growth of leukemic cells and breast cancer cells in vitro, and derivatives of cantharidin have been shown to inhibit many types of cancerous growths. Cancerous cells associated with colon cancer, cervical cancer and prostate cancer showed signs of inhibition after exposure to cantharidin. Recent genetic evidence has shed more light on the internal process that results in the production of cantharidin. However, there is still much that scientists do not know about this mysterious substance. Due to its anti-cancer properties, cantharidin holds immense potential as a future cancer treatment. Only time will tell if cantharidin will revolutionize our ability to fight cancer.

Do you believe that more attention should be paid to the potential medical benefits that insects could possibly bring to humanity?

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