Cancer could be cured by asteroid that killed dinosaurs

Iridium, which has been found in sediments left by the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs, can destroy cancer cells by infusing them with a deadly form of oxygen while leaving healthy tissue unharmed.
By Delila James | Nov 08, 2017
Metal from the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs in a mass extinction event 66 million years ago can be used to target and destroy cancer cells, according to a new study by the University of Warwick in the UK and Sun Yat-Sen University in China.

The study is published in the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition.

Researchers have shown that iridium, which is the second densest metal in the world, can kill cancer cells by infusing them with a deadly form of oxygen. Healthy tissue remains unharmed.

Iridium is rare, but has been found in sediment samples from the great Chicxulub crater left by the giant asteroid in Mexico's Yucatan peninsula.

The research team made a compound containing iridium that attacks cancer cells when activated by a laser and poisons them with a fatal form of oxygen.

"The precious metal platinum is already used in more than 50 percent of cancer chemotherapies," said co-author Peter Sadler, in a statement. "The potential of other precious metals such as iridium to provide new targeted drugs which can attach 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."

Cancer patients are becoming more resistant to traditional therapies, so it is important to find new treatments, say the authors.

"The project is a leap forward in understanding how these new iridium-based anticancer compounds are attacking cancer cells, introducing different mechanisms of action, to get around the resistance issue and tackle cancer from a different angle," said co-author Cookson Chiu.

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