Iridium kills cancer cells without harming healthy tissue

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In the United Kingdom and China, researchers from the Professor Sadler and Professor O’Connor groups in Warwick’s Department of Chemistry and Professor Hui Chao’s group at Sun Yat-Sen demonstrated that iridium – the world’s second densest metal – can be used to kill cancer cells by filling them with a deadly version of oxygen, while not harming healthy tissue.

The researchers created a compound of iridium and organic material, which can be directly targeted towards cancerous cells, transferring energy to the cells to turn the oxygen inside them into singlet oxygen, which is poisonous and kills the cell. The process is triggered by shining visible laser light through the skin onto the cancerous area – this reaches the light-reactive coating of the compound, and activates the metal to start filling the cancer with singlet oxygen.

The method was proven safe to healthy cells by conducting the treatment on non-cancerous tissue with no effect.