PLAT­INUM

Sunday Herald Sun - Body and Soul - - FRONT PAGE -

This year, about 134,000 Aus­tralians will be di­ag­nosed with can­cer. For many of them, the chemo­ther­apy drugs they use to fight their disease will con­tain plat­inum.

“Plat­inum’s ben­e­fits for can­cer were dis­cov­ered by chance,” Dr Chris­tine Car­ring­ton, a sci­en­tific ad­vi­sor to the Can­cer Coun­cil, says. “Bac­te­ria was in a so­lu­tion with plat­inum elec­trodes and sci­en­tists saw the bac­te­ria had stopped repli­cat­ing, then re­alised it was the plat­inum com­pound in the so­lu­tion that was play­ing a role.”

Plat­inum was first tri­alled in chemo­ther­apy med­i­ca­tion in 1971, and within a decade it was widely used in a form of the drug cis­platin, which works by in­ter­act­ing with and bind­ing to the DNA – “the plat­inum com­pound at­taches it­self to the

DNA of the can­cer and kills it off,” Car­ring­ton says. It came with se­ri­ous side ef­fects, from kid­ney dam­age to hear­ing loss, but also hugely im­proved sur­vival rates. In re­cent decades, plat­inum-con­tain­ing drugs such as car­bo­platin and ox­ali­platin have been re­fined to re­duce the side ef­fects.

Cis­platin is now pri­mar­ily used to treat tes­tic­u­lar can­cer and some head and neck can­cers; car­bo­platin is used to treat lung can­cer; and ox­ali­platin is used to treat colorec­tal can­cers.

These kinds of drugs are given as an in­fu­sion into the vein and Car­ring­ton says they look noth­ing like the pol­ished plat­inum we see in jew­ellery stores, but are in­fin­itely more valu­able.

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