Science & Tech

The asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs is helping kill cancer

The asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs is helping kill cancer
Did You Know?: What's the difference between a comet, asteroid and meteor?

The asteroid that hit Earth 66 million years ago may have wiped out all the dinosaurs but it also brought with it a cancer cell-killing metal.

Iridium, a rare and dense metal, is thought to have been brought to Earth when the asteroid that killed nearly all living animals collided with the planet.

The metal, most commonly found in asteroids, makes up a small portion of the Earth’s crust. In the 1980s, scientists hypothesized iridium’s arrival on Earth coincides directly with the timing of the asteroid.

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Now, according to scientists from the University of Warwick, Sun Yat-sen University, and Shenzhen University, iridium “can penetrate into the nucleus of cancer cells and destroy them when blasted with light.”

Researchers at the University of Warwick found that when combined into a compound, iridium hooked onto a protein in the blood called albumin and attack the nucleus of cancer cells when activated by light.

“It is amazing that this large protein can penetrate into cancer cells and deliver iridium which can kill them." Professor Peter Sadler from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Warwick said in a statement.

This type of cancer treatment is called photodynamic therapy where light is used to activate photosensitizers that oxidize cancer cell species.

One study from Sun Yat-sen University and Shenzhen University in China demonstrated the iridium compound’s ability to kill cancer cells by growing a cancerous tumour in a lab and then using a laser to activate the iridium compound.

They found the iridium compound showed “remarkable photocytotxicity against a range of cancer cell lines and tumor spheroids.”

While the lab tests and studies indicate iridium could be used favorably in the fight against cancer, we are a long ways from real human testing as scientists have not tested this on animals yet.

But Dr. Sadler says, “if this technology can be translated into the clinic, it might be effective against resistant cancers and reduce the side effects of chemotherapy.”

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