Iridium is a dense metal believed to have arrived on Earth on board the asteroid which put an end to the Cretaceous era. Scientists now believe that metal brought by the dinosaur-killing asteroid could be used to cure cancer.
Scientists refer to iridium as a “stealth bomb” which can enter the nucleus of cancer cells, and in reaction to a burst of light, it can cause oxygen molecules to become reactive, killing the cell. In the future, this knowledge could be used to become a powerful mechanism which could cure cancer, yet be harmless to the health of the patient, saving patients from going through radiation and chemo therapy.
There are certain molecules which create oxidizing agents when exposed to light, powerful enough to damage fast-dividing cancer cells and kill them. That said, those molecules could swiftly enter the nuclei of a cancer cell and when lit with optical fibers, the molecules could destroy tumors, not causing any damage to the healthy cells. The metal brought by the dinosaur-killing asteroid could be equipped with properties to produce oxidizing agents, which would act well against the tumor cells.
However, it’s challenging to make iridium travel to the nuclei it needs to enter. Professor Peter Sadler of Warwick University believes he can solve that. He found that the blood protein albumin can penetrate the nucleus of cancer cells while carrying an iridium payload.
“It is fascinating how albumin can deliver our photosensitizer so specifically to the nucleus,” co-author Dr Cinzia Imberti said in a statement.
There are two advantages in the iridium payload according to Sadler. It will target the cell nucleus instead of the less important parts of it, while also being luminescent. More importantly, instead of predicting the success rate of the process, scientists can watch cancer cells be destroyed in real time. Nevertheless, the iridium photosensitizers have to be tested in animals first to confirm the success. Still, there’s undoubtedly potential in the experiment.
The metal brought by the dinosaur-killing asteroid is denser than any element, making it a small component of asteroids, as well as an even smaller composition of Earth’s crust, the metal having already fallen toward Earth’s core. On the surface of the earth where its presence is higher than usual concentrations indicates the asteroid that hit the earth.
Iridium is one of the most important markers of the apocalyptic event which took place 66 million years ago, offering a huge piece of evidence about the asteroid impact putting an end to the dinosaurs. Today, iridium is mostly used for its anti-corrosion properties at high temperatures.
It is estimated that about three metric tons are mined each year, as opposed to 3,000 tons of gold.
It’s worth noting that its concentrations required for these medical purposes which could cure cancers are very minimal. However, if there will ever be a lack of the metal, we can always mine it from the asteroid, if asteroid mining becomes a thing soon.
The new paper describing the properties of iridium which could be used to cure cancer are presented in the scientific journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition.