Friday August 17, 2018

Dinosaur-killing asteroid could hold the cure for cancer

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Dinosaur-killing asteroid could hold the cure for cancer
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London: A 10-km wide asteroid that wiped out dinosaurs when it crashed into earth over 65 million years ago contains a rare metal — iridium — that could be used in the effective treatment of cancer, researchers have found.

Scientists from the UK and China have demonstrated that iridium — a rare metal delivered to Earth by the asteroid — can be used to kill cancer without harming healthy cells.

Laser-based techniques are emerging as viable treatments for cancer, targeting tumours far more precisely than the shotgun blast of radiation and chemotherapy. Researchers from the University of Warwick in the UK and Sun Yat-Sen University in China have found that laser light can turn iridium into an effective cancer killer, the newatlas.com reported.

The team created a compound of iridium and organic materials, and then introduced it into a lung cancer tumour grown in the lab. When red laser light is shone onto it through the skin, the compound is activated, converting the oxygen in the tumour into singlet oxygen, a poisonous form of the element that effectively kills the cancer cells from the inside. With cancer becoming resistant to certain treatments, it’s crucial to find new methods such as this.

Further study found that the compound was effective as it managed to penetrate every layer of the tumour.

The team used ultra-high resolution mass spectrometry to highlight which proteins in the cancer cells were being targeted. They found that the compound had damaged proteins that manage heat shock stress and glucose metabolism, which are known to be crucial molecules for cancer’s survival.

When the researchers tested the iridium compound on a clump of non-cancerous tissue they found it had no effect, meaning it seems to be a highly targeted treatment that doesn’t attack healthy cells. The research was published in the journal Angewandte Chemie.

Iridium is relatively rare on Earth naturally, but scientists have found a spike in the Chicxulub crater, an impact crater buried underneath the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico, which is often associated with the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs.

“The precious metal platinum is already used in more than 50 per cent of cancer chemotherapies,” says Peter Sadler, lead author of the study. “The potential of other precious metals such as iridium to provide new targeted drugs that attack cancer cells in completely new ways and combat resistance, and which can be used safely with the minimum of side-effects, is now being explored. It’s certainly now time to try to make good medical use of the iridium delivered to us by an asteroid 66 million years ago!” — IANS

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A Japanese Space Explorer Arrives At An Asteroid

The robotic explorer will spend about two months looking for suitable landing places on the uneven surface

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This computer graphics image provided by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) shows an asteroid and asteroid explorer Hayabusa2.
This computer graphics image provided by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) shows an asteroid and asteroid explorer Hayabusa2. VOA

A Japanese space explorer arrived at an asteroid Wednesday after a 3 1/2-year journey and now begins its real work of trying to blow a crater to collect samples to eventually bring back to Earth.

The unmanned Hayabusa2 spacecraft reached its base of operations about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the asteroid and some 280 million kilometers (170 million miles) from Earth, the Japan Space Exploration Agency said.

Over the next year and a half, the spacecraft will attempt three brief touch-and-go landings to collect samples. If the retrieval and the return journey are successful, the asteroid material could provide clues to the origin of the solar system and life on Earth.

The mission is challenging. The robotic explorer will spend about two months looking for suitable landing places on the uneven surface. Because of the high surface temperature, it will stay for only a few seconds each time it lands.

The asteroid, named Ryugu after an undersea palace in a Japanese folktale, is about 900 meters (3,000 feet) in diameter. In photos released by JAXA, the Japanese space agency, it appears more cube-shaped than round. A number of large craters can be seen, which Project Manager Yuichi Tsuda said in an online post makes the selection of landing points “both interesting and difficult.”

The first touchdown is planned for September or October. Before the final touchdown scheduled for April-May, Hayabusa2 will send out a squat cylinder that will detonate above the asteroid, shooting a 2-kilogram (4.4-pound) copper projectile into it at high speed to make a crater.

Hayabusa2 will hide on the other side of the asteroid to protect itself during the operation and wait another two to three weeks to make sure any debris that could damage the explorer has cleared. It will then attempt to land at or near the crater to collect underground material that was blown out of the crater, in addition to the surface material from the earlier touchdowns.

astronaut
astronaut. Pixabay

The spacecraft will also deploy three rovers that don’t have wheels but can hop around on the surface of the asteroid to conduct probes. Hayabusa2 will also send a French-German-made lander to study the surface with four observation devices.

Asteroids, which orbit the sun but are much smaller than planets, are among the oldest objects in the solar system. As such, they may help explain how Earth evolved, including the formation of oceans and the start of life.

Hayabusa2 was launched in December 2014 and is due to return to Earth at the end of 2020. An earlier Hayabusa mission from 2003 to 2010 collected samples from a different type of asteroid and took three years longer than planned after a series of technical glitches, including a fuel leak and a loss of contact for seven weeks.

Also read: Japanese Climber Dies on his Eighth Attempt to Climb Mt. Everest

NASA also has an ongoing asteroid mission. Its Osiris-Rex spacecraft is expected to reach the asteroid Bennu later this year and return with samples in 2023. (IANS)