Rare metal may kill cancer cells without harming the body

Metal found in the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs may be able to fight cancer.
By Wilson Soto | Nov 08, 2017
The metal iridium -- which likely existed in the asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs -- may be able to target and destroy cancer cells, a new study published in Angewandte Chemie reports.

Iridium comes from the same family as platinum. It is brittle, yellow, and has a melting point of over 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit. More importantly, it is the most corrosion-resistant metal in the world.

Scientists first found the substance in 1803 and, while it is does not naturally occur on Earth, it is quite common in meteoroids. In fact, it is found in the Earth's crust from around 66 million years ago: the same time the dinosaur-killing Chicxulub asteroid crashed to Earth.

In the new study, a group of researchers from the University of Warwick analyzed the metal and found it is able to kill cancer cells without causing harm to healthy tissue.

To do this, doctors created a compound made of iridium and organic metal that can directly target cancer cells. It does that by turning the oxygen inside harmful cells into a singlet oxygen, which then kills them. The team administered the new substance to the cells through a process known as photochemotherapy.

By using that process -- which uses laser light to fight the disease -- the team in the study managed to use the iridium compound to destroy the proteins for key molecules in cancer.

"It's certainly now time to try to make good medical use of the iridium delivered to us by an asteroid 66 million years ago," said study co-author Peter Sadler, a researcher from the University of Warwick, according to Tech Times

This process is important because it could lead to new cancer treatments and help create more efficient forms of chemotherapy down the line. The scientists hope to continue their testing to see how the compound affects the body long-term, and what other applications the metal might have.

"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, a postgraduate researcher in Warwick's Department of Chemistry, in a statement.

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