Material from asteroid that destroyed dinosaurs helps kill cancer cells

06 November 2017

The asteroid that hit the earth around 66 million years ago and wiped out the dinosaur population, also brought cosmic cancer-killing metals to earth, according to a new study.

According to scientists, filling iridium, a metal delivered by the asteroid with a kind of poisonous oxygen, destroys cancer cells, keeping healthy cells intact.

Scientists at the University of Warwick, UK, and Sun Yat-Sen University in China have developed a new method to destroy cancer cells using the silvery metal iridium, which is the second densest element and can endure temperatures as high as 2,400 Celsius.

The scientists created a model tumour of lung cancer in the lab and also developed a compound of iridium and organic material. They then injected it into cancer cells, which changed the oxygen into a poison called singlet oxygen, that eventually destroying the cancerous cells.

Using a laser light, the researchers activated the iridium injected into the cancer cells, only to discover that the singlet oxygen infiltrated every layer of the tumour and eradicated it.

The new research, has so far only been used on a model of cancerous cells. However, according to commentators, the new study, published in the journal Angewandte Chemie, still offers a new perspective on this kind of cancer treatment.

Meanwhile, the University of Warwick said in a press release, "The researchers found that after attacking a model tumour of lung cancer cells, grown by the researchers in the laboratory to form a tumour-like sphere, with red laser light (which can penetrate deeply through the skin), the activated organic-iridium compound had penetrated and infused into every layer of the tumour to kill it demonstrating how effective and far-reaching this treatment is.

They also proved that the method is safe to healthy cells by conducting the treatment on non-cancerous tissue and finding it had no effect.

Furthermore, the researchers used state-of-the-art ultra-high resolution mass spectrometry to gain an unprecedented view of the individual proteins within the cancer cells allowing them to determine precisely which proteins are attacked by the organic-iridium compound.

After vigorously analysing huge amounts of data - thousands of proteins from the model cancer cells, they concluded that the iridium compound damaged the proteins for heat shock stress, and glucose metabolism, both known as key molecules in cancer.

The University of Warwick has the UK's most advanced laboratory for this type of highly advanced mass spectrometry.

Co-author Cookson Chiu, postgraduate researcher in Warwick's Department of Chemistry, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and Bruker,  a manufacturer of scientific instruments for molecular and materials research, and for industrial and applied analysis, says, ''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.''

Royal Society Newton International Fellows in Warwick's Department of Chemistry Dr Pingyu Zhang, adds, ''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. In addition, 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''

Peter O'Connor, Professor of Analytical Chemistry at Warwick, notes, ''Remarkable advances in modern mass spe

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