Researchers at University of Warwick say that a precious metal called osmium, which has never been used in a clinical setting before, may lead to next generation of improved cancer treatments.
Osmium is closely related to platinum and is widely used to treat some cancers in the form of the drug cisplatin, but it is not useful for all kinds of cancer.
The metal has shown huge promise in treating several different types of cancer cell-including ovarian and colon cancers-that were developed and tested in the laboratory.
The cisplatin drug was also used by ace cyclist Lance Armstrong for treating testicular cancer.
The researchers seek to develop the potential of osmium through more extensive biological tests.
"Although cisplatin has been proven to be a very successful treatment; it is not useful for all kinds of cancer," said Professor Peter Sadler, of the Department of Chemistry.
"It is also quite a toxic therapy, which can produce side effects and, from a clinical point of view, cells can also become resistant to platinum," he added.
The research team including Sadler, along with post-graduate researcher Sabine van Rijt, are working to develop new compounds using Osmium that can lead to the development of drugs for combination therapies alongside existing drugs, such as cisplatin.
"The compounds we have been developing are very promising," says Sabine van Rijt.
"We're building a picture of how different compounds might interact with DNA in cancer cells. By making changes to the coating, or ligand, on the metal, we can also affect not just how it interacts, but the rate of interaction.
"During this design process we can also make changes which can control the activity of the compound."
She added: "Another advantage is that these compounds are not cross-resistant with platinum. They kill the cancerous cells in a different way, so they could be used alongside platinum in combination therapies."
The findings will be presented at the national university technology showcase event, Bioversity.