The Magic of Bees

  • Written by  Miguel Angel P. Cordon
  • Published in Features
The Magic of Bees © OVCRE/Regina Mae C. Ongkiko

Bees are one of nature’s wonder insects. They play a bigger role in our lives than we perceive. Bees are the only source of honey. Honey, the most common among bee products, provides a number of different uses from adding flavor to your breakfast to curing various ailments such as burns and sore throats. Honey is also being used as a natural alternative to beauty products. It can be used as a moisturizer, pore cleanser, and, when mixed with coconut oil, as hair conditioner. Bees are also active pollinators. Many crops benefit from bee pollination like eggplant, lettuce, and coconut.

Another bee product that most people are unaware of is bee propolis. Bee propolis, or bee glue as some would call it, is a resinous substance that the worker bees use to repair their honeycombs.

According to previous studies, propolis has been widely used as a therapeutic agent. It is even being used as antiseptic and anti-inflammatory agents in Eastern European countries. However, there are no local research studies to test the therapeutic properties of propolis and make use of its healing abilities.

Medical breakthrough

To answer that, Dr. Maria Amelita C. Estacio from the UPLB College of Veterinary Medicine, with the support of the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Agricultural Research (DA-BAR) and the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI) initiated the project entitled “Apitheraphy in Animals: Clinical Testing and Therapeutic Application of Formulated Bee Products as Anti-Microbial and Wound Healing Enhancing Agent Using Animal Models.”

The project aimed to create a wound dressing as aid for animals and humans alike. Parts of the objective were also to provide an alternative to the traditional antibiotic-laden wound patch currently used in incisional and sutured wounds and to compare how the bee propolis wound patch differ from the antibiotic-laden wound patch in terms of efficacy.

When asked why she decided to focus on bees and bee propolis in particular, Dr. Estacio said that there is a lot of potential with bees and bee propolis, especially with regards to health. She pointed out that based on other papers and researches, bee propolis has other health benefits aside from wound healing. Bee propolis has been found to have anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, anti-ulcer, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties.

With her project, Dr. Estacio wanted to focus on producing an alternative to traditional wound patches that would work faster and more effectively. Dr. Estacio, along with PNRI Biomed Section Head Ms. Zenaida de Guzman, UPLB Bee Program coordinator Dr. Aimee Lynn Dupo, and their staff, found out that bee propolis makes wounds heal faster as compared to the antibiotic-laden wound patches.

The wounds treated with bee propolis left smaller scars too. There were also no side effects found during the course of the research, adding to the practicality of using the bee propolis wound patches. In-vivo testing of the wound patches was conducted on laboratory animals at the College of Veterinary Medicine.

The BEENET and UPLB Bee Program

The bee propolis used in making the wound dressing came from the local stingless bees. These bees are found here in the Philippines. The stingless bees were provided by the Beekeepers’ Network Philippines Foundation Inc or BEENET.

BEENET is the first national beekeeping group registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as a non-stock non-profit organization. They do research on bees as well as conduct symposiums, seminars, and workshops. BEENET was conceptualized because of the UPLB Bee Program. The UPLB Bee Program is a multi-disciplinary, integrated research and development program established on 27 February 1989. It aims to promote, formalize, coordinate, and integrate all bee-related research and extension activities in UPLB. It has been recognized as the National Center of Excellence for Bee Research and Development since 2004. The program spearheaded the development of innovative ways of beekeeping like the use of ionizing radiation in bee disease control and the use of Artificial Neural Network (ANN) among others.

The propolis’ future

Presently, the bee propolis wound dressing is not yet commercially available. Dr. Estacio mentioned that for this to happen, further testing and studies must be made and prioritized.

Her project is only the first thrust in making this product available to the public. With the positive results of the project, researchers started looking for different veterinary companies, as well as human pharmaceutical companies that are interested to put bee propolis health products into the local market.

The new bee propolis-based wound dressing will indeed provide a better alternative to the traditional antibiotic-based wound dressings. Once the product is available, it will be beneficial to a wide sector of people, as well as medical and veterinary doctors. Local beekeepers would also have additional income from the production of propolis from stingless bees.

Bees are truly wonderful insects. They provide food, help the environment through pollination, and now, their propolis is being used to heal wounds.

With Dr. Estacio’s research, more people would take interest in these little insects, thus increasing the number of pollinators helping the environment, while also helping the beekeepers of the Philippines.