Iridium: Killing cancer cells with the metal that wiped out dinosaurs

An illustration of dinosaurs.
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Iridium, the rare metal from the meteorite that wiped out dinosaurs, can be attached to albumin, a protein in the blood to kill cancer cells when blasted with light.

Researchers at the University of Warwick were able to use a special chemical coating to connect Iridium to the protein albumin which glowed brightly so that they could track the passage into cancel cells. In the cancer cells, the metal compound converted the cells’ oxygen to a lethal form to kill them.

Photodynamic therapy to kill cancer cells

Photodynamic therapy, which is the treatment of cancer using light, is based on chemical compounds called photosensitizers. These can be switched on by light to produce oxidising species which are able to kill cancer cells. By activating the compounds selectively using optic fibres, clinicians are able to kill cancer cells where the tumour is but leave the healthy cells intact.

Professor Peter Sadler, from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Warwick said: “It is amazing that this large protein can penetrate into cancer cells and deliver iridium which can kill them selectively on activation with visible light. If this technology can be translated into the clinic, it might be effective against resistant cancers and reduce the side effects of chemotherapy.”

Bridging the disciplines of biology, chemistry and pharmacy

Dr Cinzia Imberti, from the University of Warwick commented: “It is fascinating how albumin can deliver our photosensitiser so specifically to the nucleus. We are at a very early stage, but we are looking forward to see where the preclinical development of this new compound can lead.”

Imberti continued: “Our team is not only extremely multidisciplinary, including biologists, chemists and pharmacists, but also highly international, including young researchers from China, India and Italy supported by Royal Society Newton and Sir Henry Wellcome Fellowships.”

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