A dense metal found in asteroids called iridium can be used to kill cancer cells without causing any harm to the healthy tissue surrounding it, according to a recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Warwick in England and Sun Yat-Sen University in China.
The researchers used the metal and organic materials to form a compound to be used to target cancerous cells in a lab-grown lung tumor.
When activated by a red laser, the compound turns the oxygen in the cells into singlet oxygen, which poisons and kills the cancer.
Using an ultra-high resolution mass spectrometry, the researchers were able to see exactly which proteins were affected after the photoactivation process and proved that the healthy cells were unharmed.
“This project is a leap forward in understanding how these new iridium-based anti-cancer compounds are attacking cancer cells, introducing different mechanisms of action, to get around the resistance issue and tackle cancer from a different angle,” said study co-author Cookson Chiu.
Professor Peter Sadler pointed out that platinum is already used in more than half of cancer chemotherapies, and added that “the potential of other precious metals such as iridium to provide new targeted drugs which attack cancer cells in completely new ways and combat resistance, and which can be used safely with the minimum of side-effects, is now being explored.”
“Our innovative approach to tackle cancer involving targeting important cellular proteins can lead to novel drugs with new mechanisms of action. These are urgently needed,” said Dr. Pingyu Zhang, who also championed international collaboration.
“Research links between UK and Chinese academics will not only lead to lasting collaborations but also have potential to open up the translation of new drugs into the clinic as a UK-China joint development.”
Iridium is commonly found in meteorites but is rare on Earth. An iridium-rich layer that marks the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary was discovered in Raton, New Mexico and gave rise to the theory of an asteroid hitting the Yucatan Peninsula and causing the extinction event 66 million years ago.
Source: Outer Places