Move Over Platinum, Here Comes Ruthenium

Cancer chemotherapy agents may one day be made of ruthenium

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) A number of common chemotherapy agents, such as cisplatin, contain the element platinum. And while effective against cancer cells, these medications can damage healthy cells.

That's why the push is on to find kinder, less toxic, medications.

Preclinical studies have found that when light turns on drugs made from a rare metal known as ruthenium, the combination is extremely effective in killing cancer cells, without the typical toxic side effects on healthy cells.

"Ask your oncologist about available therapies."

A University of Kentucky research team, led by Edith C. Glazer, PhD, assistant professor of chemistry, believes ruthenium-based drugs may be more effective than platinum-based chemotherapy agents. 

Glazer tells dailyRx, "Platinum-based drugs such as cisplatin and carboplatin are effective in the treatment of many types of cancer, but cause serious and debilitating side effects to patients, and suffer from dose-limiting toxicity." 

"The aim of our work is to make compounds that can be used in the treatment of many kinds of cancer, like platinum agents, but can be triggered to kill cancer cells in a controlled manner, so they are less toxic," Glazer says.

The UK team has developed two ruthenium compounds, which are inert (non-reactive) in the dark. When activated by light, though, the compounds become extremely toxic -- up to 200 times as toxic and up to three times as potent -- as cisplatin against lung cancer and leukemia cells.

Glazer explains how this works. "We have found that we can use light as the trigger for compounds containing the metal ruthenium. This would potentially allow for treatments where light could be used to activate the compound only in the tissues where the malignant cells are localized, and the rest of the healthy tissues would be protected from damage, as they were not exposed to light," Glazer writes in an email. 

She adds, "The next step is to test the compounds in living systems to determine if they have promise as potential drugs." 

This study was published in the June, 2012 issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society. 

No funding information or financial disclosures were publicly available.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 13, 2012
Last Updated:
October 26, 2012