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SKEPTOID BLOG:

Bee Venom and HIV are we getting stung again?

by Stephen Propatier

March 13, 2013

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Donate Bee venom therapy is an alternative medical treatment. Like many alternative treatments it has little plausibility, poor research, and primarily anecdotal evidence. Benefit appears in research only when controls are poor. In well blinded and controlled studies the "effects" disappear. Bee therapy has the usual research problems plus appeals to antiquity, homeopathic theory, natural fallacy. Similar to other fraud treatments it is associated with "curing" a variety of chronic diseases, allergies, autoimmune disease, psychological illness, neurological disorders....et al. It has vociferous supporters, but not much good science. Recently a well controlled study was published in a reputable peer reviewed journal. It is showing that Bee Venom may help in the treatment of HIV.

This study has been a internet rallying cry for "alternative medicine" uses of bee venom therapy. It is being called proof of effectiveness. I have reviewed the single study and it appears to be convincing. This research does not negate the pile of negative findings and poor research associated with the whole of bee venom therapy. Proponents would like you to think that this proves their theories. I would beg to differ. I think this research is a proud example of science beating pseudoscience and it does nothing to support the fantastic claims of Apitherapy.

Published in The Journal of Antiviral Therapy,"Cytolytic nanoparticles attenuate HIV-1 infectivity". This study is a"Proof of Concept" study. Despite the internet blog and media chatter about this treatment the researchers make no claim of a HIV cure. The research shows a bee venom component "melittin" has been found to act in vivo (meaning in a lab) on HIV particles. The authors conclusions,"These data illustrate the first proof-of-concept for therapeutic and safe nanoparticle-mediated inhibition of HIV-1 infectivity.". The Author's recommendation "Future investigations appear warranted to explore the antiviral prophylactic potential of melittin nanoparticles to capture, disrupt and prevent initial infection with HIV-1 or potentially other enveloped viruses." Essentially, in the lab they have found a way to use a bee venom component to negatively affect the defensive structure of the HIV particle, possibly inhibiting spread.

Interesting? Very. Provocative? Certainly. Proof of Bee Venom generalized effectiveness? Unequivocal no. This is preliminary research only. There is a chance that a component of bee venom may be an agent that can be used to interfere with the transmission of HIV. I stress MAY here. HIV is an adaptable and tricky organism that has defeated decades of vaccine research. Although it is possible that this may develop into a curative treatment for HIV, it is more likely this will be another adjutant treatment, not a cure. Calling it a cure at this point is, shall we say, a little premature. This research demonstrates that the concept is possible. The vagaries of treatment within the human body and the complexities of this virus mean that safety and efficacy is unpredictable.

I will describe a perfect scenario for this treatment. The particles activity is demonstrated in animal models. Next animal studies against controls show that it has a benefit and that it is reasonably safe. Next in human trials it is shown to completely safe, inhibit the transmission of HIV, and decreases the activity of the virus in the human body. Dose dependent testing shows that it is safe and allows the immune system to finally properly defeat the HIV virus. It is cleared for administration and the WHO, FDA, world health organizations institute a massive treatment campaign. HIV and AIDS as we know it is gone. Sounds great. As I said a perfect scenario.

The reality. At almost every step most treatments fail to pass any of these hurdles In the end, if it is proven safe and effective, it is never as good as you hope. Plus HIV is a living organism that adapts. Even if it is effective it may not work for long.

Overall this positive research is not in any way supportive of the claims related to "Bee Venom Therapy". Venom is a active chemical which may have medical applications. That statement does not support the theory that bee venom is a all purpose miracle cure.

Venom is an evolutionary gold mine, venom components are used in medicine now. Components of snake venom have been analysed and are used in medical treatment such as a anticoagulants. Eptifibatide is from rattlesnake venom, and Tirofiban is from an African scale viper. Used as a anti-clotting agents they have saved lives. They have significant bleeding risks in addition to benefits. Venom bottom line; if you isolate a usable protein, dose it, test it, and it has a practical applications, it can become a medical treatment.

That is not what Bee Venom proponents do. Usually you are stung regularly. Dangerous, uncontrolled, and as far as we can tell, useless. A good analogy" Tirofiban is effective for heart attacks therefore line up to receive a viper bite to cure your Multiple Sclerosis". Even if it is a Myocardial Infarction, the viper bite probably will not help. This is essentially what the Bee Venom Therapy proponents recommend when they advise getting stung to treat MS.

An alternative medicine practitioner may try to treat a HIV infected person with bee venom. Without scientific controls and testing there is no way to determine an effect, dose, or risks. Science can do this, magical thinking cannot. A good historical example is penicillin. Feeding people moldy bread and citrus fruit did not treat bacterial infections. If Fleming did not see that fungal contaminated Petri dishes impaired bacterial growth there might never have been penicillin. Subsequent controlled experiments proved the concept. Eventually leading the way for the antibiotic era (Rapidly ending). Alternative medicines lack this approach, they work backwards from the assumption that it must work.

In my opinion alternative medicine methodology is exactly why alternative is synonymous with useless. In this case, a scientist analysed components of the bee venom. They tested them in controlled conditions with a definable result. This was done just to evaluate the concept. Those scientists did not start out by trying to cure HIV with bee venom therapy. By using careful reproducible steps they allow us to eventually know if this treatment is safe and effective. Alternative methods such as arguments from antiquity "Romans used bee stings for pain", will not result in HIV treatment. Neither will un-blinded self-reported pain studies for rheumatoid arthritis. Given time and well structured research bee venom may be a breakthrough in HIV treatment. This is due to good science not naturalistic fallacy.

Of course this will not stop the alternative proponents from claiming a "Win". Nor will it stop them from using this research to prop up the other unsupported claims of Apitherapy as a whole.

So the next time you hear a Apitherapy proponent justifying some quack treatment because of this research. Just smile and remember that their best example is a good example of their failures and "Conventional Medicine" benefits.

References:

http://news.yahoo.com/bee-venom-potential-hiv-killer-172200370.html

Hood JL, Jallouck AP, Campbell N, Ratner L, Wickline SA. Cytolytic nanoparticles attenuate HIV-1 infectivity. Antiviral Therapy. Vol. 19: 95 - 103. 2013

"No Beneficial Effect of Bee Venom in Study Using Animal Model for MS". Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada. 1998-06-02. Retrieved 2007-03-07.
^ a b Castro, HJ; Mendez-Inocencio, JI; Omidvar, B; Omidvar, J; Santilli, J; Nielsen Jr, HS; Pavot, AP; Richert, JR et al. (2005). "A phase I study of the safety of honeybee venom extract as a possible treatment for patients with progressive forms of multiple sclerosis". Allergy and asthma proceedings : the official journal of regional and state allergy societies 26 (6): 470—6. PMID 16541972.


Wesselius, T; Heersema, DJ; Mostert, JP; Heerings, M; Admiraal-Behloul, F; Talebian, A; Van Buchem, MA; De Keyser, J (2005-12-13). "A randomized crossover study of bee sting therapy for multiple sclerosis". Neurology 65 (11): 1764—1768. doi:10.1212/01.wnl.0000184442.02551.4b. PMID 16221950. Retrieved 2011-04-10.

by Stephen Propatier

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