Hyderabad: A new method of treating cancer, which moves away from the traditional approach and uses unlikely elements like light and iron, is being investigated at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc).

In this approach, iron containing chemical compounds are used to kill cancerous cells along with light which acts as a switch to turn these compounds on or off.

This iron compound, scientists say, is unusual as it targets the mitochondria of a cell, while typically the nucleus of a cell is targeted. A mitochondria is responsible for generating power and is the so-called powerhouse of a cell, whereas the nucleus contains most part of the DNA.

Akhil Chakravarty, professor at the Department of Inorganic and Physical Chemistry, and Paturu Kondaiah, professor at the Department of Molecular Reproduction, Development and Genetics at IISc, worked together on the study, which was first published in the European Journal of Inorganic Chemistry.

Mitochondria are sub-units of cells responsible for energy production. A mutation or dysfunction in mitochondria can disrupt energy production.

“A disruption in this pathway can lead to a cancer state. The body itself normally destroys dysfunctional cells while checking for fully functioning cells. If the cells escape the body’s checking mechanism, they can go on to cause cancer. Hence, we need to develop ways to target these cells and prevent their proliferation in order to prevent the occurrence of cancer," said the study.

This treatment approach is called photodynamic therapy, where light-sensitive compounds are administered to cancer cells and the cells are radiated with red light. Under red light, the compounds get activated and kill the tumour cells.

The scientists have worked on it for around three years. “The therapy uses inorganic compounds instead of organic drugs, thus avoiding the problems of skin sensitivity caused by organic drugs. Also, the drug is extremely selective: it is activated only in the presence of light," Chakravarty said.

The work now involves testing the drug on animal models.