Chicxulub meteor contains rare cancer-fighting metal, British researchers say

Illustration: Getty
Illustration: Getty

The meteor that left the Chicxulub Crater might have wiped out the dinosaurs, but could contain a cancer-curing metal, reports a British news agency.

Blasting the iridium metal with a laser beam produces a poisonous form of oxygen that is deadly for tumor cells and harmless for healthy ones, according to research reported by the South West News Service.

Iridium is the world’s rarest element, and it penetrates the nucleus of cancer cells by latching onto the blood protein albumin. Other scientists have argued that the iridium may have been of volcanic origin instead, because Earth’s core is rich in iridium, and active volcanoes such as Piton de la Fournaise, in the Indian Ocean, are still releasing iridium.

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It becomes toxic when exposed to light, the basis of photodynamic therapy, which activates the metal to kill cancer cells through oxidization.

“It’s amazing this large protein can penetrate into cancer cells and deliver iridium which can kill them selectively on activation with visible light,” said Professor Peter Sadler of Warwick University. “If this technology can be translated into the clinic it might be effective against resistant cancers and reduce the side effects of chemotherapy.”

Pre-clinical animal trials are next, he said.

It’s already being used to treat a range of common cancers including those of the skin, breast and lung.

The study published in Angewandte Chemie International Edition found the iridium-based compound is an excellent photosensitizer.

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Iridium landed in the Gulf of Mexico 66 million years ago riding on the massive seven-mile-wide space rock that killed off 70 percent of living species including the dinosaurs.

It’s found in the world-famous Chicxulub crater underneath the Yucatan Peninsula caused by the asteroid strike believed responsible for the death of the dinosaurs.

The precious metal platinum is already used in over half of cancer chemotherapies.

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