Beekeepers are in the early stages of trials to assess the benefits of bee venom.

Key points:

  • A Northern NSW apiarist is exploring how beekeepers can diversify
  • Research has found honeybee venom is effective in killing breast cancer cells
  • It could provide more options for apiarists than just honey production

When floods killed millions of her bees in March, Di McQueen-Richardson knew she would have to think creatively to ensure the future of her business.

The northern NSW apiarist is one of 15 commercial beekeeping operations impacted by natural disasters who will be supported to explore alternate uses for bees in farming by the Wheen Bee Foundation.

Ms McQueen-Richardson is among three female beekeepers taking part in the charity’s 5 Bees program, which helps commercial beekeepers recovering from natural disaster. 

Photo - beekeepers

Di McQueen-Richardson and husband Scott.(

(Supplied: Di McQueen-Richardson)

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She said her business HoneyBee Hives, which operates from Coutts Crossing, would be using Queensland-invented technology to see if bee venom could be used for both cosmetic and therapeutic purposes.

The technology, developed by company Whale Labs, is a bee venom collection device that doesn’t harm the bees.

“Rather than just doing the same old, same old, let’s look at ways we can diversify,” Ms McQueen-Richardson said.

A study published in the Nature Precision Oncology journal last year found venom from honeybees could rapidly kill aggressive and hard-to-treat breast cancer cells.

The study also found when the venom’s main component was combined with existing chemotherapy drugs, it was extremely efficient at reducing tumour growth in mice.

A way to go but how would it work?

Ms McQueen-Richardson said the chance to partner with a university to tap into institutional knowledge would be helpful in creating a pathway to see if the venom could be regulated and approved in Australia.

“We would like to partner with a university to get some medical studies done on the efficacy of the treatment. It really needs quite a bit of research to be approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration,” she said.

Ciara Duffy, from Western Australia’s Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research, said a component of the venom called melittin had the killing effect.

The researchers reproduced the melittin synthetically and found it mirrored the majority of the anti-cancer effects of the honeybee venom.

Ms McQueen-Richardson is now interested in whether the melittin can be commercially harvested.

She said while there was still plenty of work to be done, the prospect of alternate uses for bees and their byproducts was enticing.

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