Rare Element Found in Prehistoric Asteroid Could Be Viable Cancer Cure

Caitlin Mullooly, Local & World News Editor

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New research suggests iridium, the metal contained in the asteroid that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, could be utilized to cure cancer.  Iridium is one of the rarest elements on Earth. Scientific research suggests that the element is able to penetrate the nuclei of cancer cells by attaching itself to albumin, a protein in blood.  Once inside the nucleus, the metal is blasted with a laser beam. This reaction results in the production of a poisonous form of oxygen that is deadly to cancer cells, but has no effect on healthy cells.  This process, called photodynamic therapy, uses chemical compounds called photosensitizers that, when hit by certain light, create a form of oxygen that kills nearby cells.

British scientists maintain that photodynamic therapy could revolutionize treatments for deadly forms of cancer.  Warwick University Chemistry Professor Peter 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.”

Professor Sadler goes on to explain that iridium can be applied locally (only in the affected area) or in small doses.  In their research, his international team employed an organic coating to attach to albumin and cause it to glow brightly.  This sensation allowed the scientists to track the passage of the iridium into lab-grown lung cancer tumors. The process was able to successfully destroy the growths.  The next step for the treatment is a pre-clinical animal test.

Sadler also believes that other precious metals with minimal side-effects, like iridium,  could potentially work in photodynamic therapy. As cancer is becoming resistant to select treatments, alternate methods like photodynamic therapy are crucial to combating the disease.  

Sadler explains, “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.”  

With a breakthrough discovery like this, we could see the end to cancer during our own lifetime!