Being diagnosed with cancer doesn’t necessarily carry the same weight as it did a few decades ago, and treatments today have increased the survival rates for many types of the disease dramatically. That said, we obviously still don’t have a cure, but new research into the effects of iridium on cancer cells looks not only promising, but incredibly exciting.

The research, which was conducted by a team of scientists from both the University of Warwick and China’s Sun Yat-Sen University, tested a novel approach to combating cancer which involves flooding the cells with a toxic form of oxygen that not only kills off the cancer but leaves surrounding healthy tissue unfazed. The research was published in the journal Angewandte Chemi.

The technique the researchers used is fairly complex, but it all starts with iridium. Iridium is the second densest metal on the planet, and while it’s fairly rare to find here on Earth, it’s often found in large quantities in asteroids. The dinosaur-killing space rock that slammed into the earth some 65 million years ago is thought to have been responsible for much of the iridium found here today, and it’s a key ingredient in a cancer-fighting cocktail.

To create the cancer-conquering substance, scientists created a compound of iridium and organic matter which was then used against the cancer cells. The compound converts the oxygen found within the cells into what is called singlet oxygen, which behaves dramatically when interacting with organic compounds and is toxic to the cancer. When the proteins of the targeted cancer are attacked it dies off, while the healthy cells around it remain unaffected.

“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,” Cookson Chiu, co-author of the study and postgraduate research at Warwick explained.

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