Sunday March 24, 2019

Dinosaur-killing asteroid could hold the cure for cancer

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Dinosaur-killing asteroid could hold the cure for cancer

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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“It Is A More Rugged Surface Than We Predicted,” NASA’s Plan to Scoop Up Dirt from Asteroid Hits Complication

A Japanese spacecraft, Hayabusa2, touched down on another asteroid in February, also on a mission to collect material. Japan managed to return some tiny particles in 2010 from its first asteroid mission.

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This artist's rendering made available by NASA in July 2016 shows the mapping of the near-Earth asteroid Bennu by the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. VOA

NASA’s plan to scoop up dirt and gravel from an asteroid has hit a snag, but scientists say they can overcome it.

The asteroid Bennu was thought to have wide, open areas suitable for the task. But a recently arrived spacecraft revealed the asteroid is covered with boulders and there don’t seem to be any big, flat spots that could be used to grab samples.

In a paper released Tuesday by the journal Nature, scientists say they plan to take a closer look at a few smaller areas that might work. They said sampling from those spots poses “a substantial challenge.”

“But I am confident this team is up to that substantial challenge,” the project’s lead scientist, Dante Lauretta, told reporters at a news conference Tuesday.

The spacecraft, called Osiris-Rex, is scheduled to descend close to the surface in the summer of 2020. It will extend a robot arm to pick up the sample, which will be returned to Earth in 2023. The spacecraft began orbiting Bennu at the end of last year, after spending two years chasing down the space rock.

FILE - This Nov. 16, 2018, image provide by NASA shows the asteroid Bennu.
This Nov. 16, 2018, image provide by NASA shows the asteroid Bennu. VOA

When the mission was planned, scientists were aiming to take dirt and gravel from an area measuring at least 55 yards (50 meters) in diameter that was free of boulders or steep slopes, which would pose a hazard.

“It is a more rugged surface than we predicted,” said Lauretta, of the University of Arizona in Tucson and one of the paper’s authors. But he said he believed a sample could still be collected.

NASA project manager Rich Burns said a spot will be chosen this summer and the setback won’t delay the sampling.

Patrick Taylor, who studies asteroids at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston but didn’t participate in the spacecraft mission, noted in a telephone interview that the spacecraft was evidently maneuvering more accurately and precisely than had been expected.

“That gives me confidence they will be able to attempt a sample acquisition,” he said.

NASA
NASA project manager Rich Burns said a spot will be chosen this summer and the setback won’t delay the sampling. VOA

Also Read: To Ensure Transparency, WHO Panel Aims for Registry of All Human Gene-Editing Research

Bennu is 70 million miles (110 million kilometers) from Earth. It’s estimated to be just over 1,600 feet (500 meters) across and is the smallest celestial body ever orbited by a spacecraft.

A Japanese spacecraft, Hayabusa2, touched down on another asteroid in February, also on a mission to collect material. Japan managed to return some tiny particles in 2010 from its first asteroid mission. (VOA)