A new compound based on Iridium, a rare metal which landed in the Gulf of Mexico 66 M years ago, hooked onto albumin, a protein in blood, can attack the nucleus of cancerous cells when switched on by light, University of Warwick researchers have found.

The treatment of cancer using light, called Photodynamic therapy, is based on chemical compounds called photosensitizers, which can be switched on by light to produce oxidising species, able to kill cancer cells. Clinicians can activate these compounds selectively where the tumour is (using optical fibres) thus killing cancer cells and leaving healthy cells intact.

Thanks to the special chemical coating they used, the Warwick group was able to hook up Iridium to the blood protein Albumin, which then glowed very brightly so they could track its passage into cancer cells, where it converted the cells’ own oxygen to a lethal form which killed them.

Not only is the newly formed molecule an excellent photosensitiser, but Albumin is able to deliver it into the nucleus inside cancer cells. The dormant compound can then be switched on by light irradiation and destroy the cancer cells from their very centre.

Read more at University of Warwick