Platinum: the almighty cancer killer!

Just this morning, I took a beautiful walk along Lake Michigan to raise awareness for Breast Cancer. My wonderful, strong friend, shown below, is a Breast cancer warrior and survivor (all before 30). Chemotherapy is both such an amazing medical marvel, yet so hard to experience. She went through 2 rounds of chemotherapy, 1 surgery and 1 round of radiation- all in the past 10 months. Its certainly been a whirl-wind of a 10 months. 

The goal of chemotherapy, or surgery or radiation is the same. Its to get this CANCER OUT, DEAD, GONE, get the picture. 

From left to right: My friend, Kathryn; myself, my husband with our baby, and Kathryn's spouse, Jake.

From left to right: My friend, Kathryn; myself, my husband with our baby, and Kathryn's spouse, Jake.

Have you heard of "Cisplatin"? Its one revolutionary chemotherapy treatment. Cisplatin was discovered to affect bacteria cells in the 1960s, and then cisplatin was developed as a cancer treatment shortly thereafter.(1) Its now mostly used for: ovarian cancer, testicular cancer, and cervical cancers, but has been used for many others as well. You know what its made of? : PLATINUM

How was it discovered? 

Before this point, platinum was assumed to not have effects on cells. (Anyone else with metal jewelry allergy?- platinum is the jewelry recommended for those allergic to other metals because it doesn't irritate the skin.) But then, a scientist electrocuted bacteria with platinum electrodes and he noticed something odd...bacteria stopped replicating or dividing! (2) Long story short- it was cisplatin. When cisplatin is in animals or humans, it kills cancer! 

This is a GREAT example of how any and all scientific research can have revolutionary effects on our society and world. 

How does cisplatin work? How does Platinum kill cancer?

Cisplatin is a platinum atom with chloride and ammonia attached.

Its so small and so simple, yet so dang powerful! 

This little molecule binds DNA. When cisplatin binds DNA, cisplatin stops DNA from replicating. When DNA cannot replicate, that cell cannot replicate. So cisplatin stops cells from growing and dividing. 

Its been revolutionary in the fight against testicular cancer. The survival rate used to be ~10%. Now with the advent of Cisplatin, it is close to 100%. (1) Amazing! 

Why Platinum? 

Platinum is the special ingredient. Platinum is most similar to Nickel and Palladium, but these do not cause harm to DNA or cancer cells.(3) 

It has to do with how it forms a more stable complex with DNA. This DNA-Platinum complex is what causes all of the trouble! 

Cisplatin is an amazing Cancer treatment. It uses the metal Platinum to bind to DNA. This platinum-DNA complex causes tumor cells to die. 


(1) Prestayko. 2013. Cisplatin: Current Status and New Developments. Academic Press. 

(2) The "Accidental" Cure—Platinum-based Treatment for Cancer: The Discovery of Cisplatin.

(3) Reedijk. New clues for platinum antitumor chemistry. 2003. PNAS. Vol 100. pp 3611.