Cancer treatment may be advanced by the discovery of a compound that causes the death of cancer cells, a process called apoptosis, using nitric acid.
The discovery involves dye-sensitised ruthenium nitrosyls that becomes embedded in cancer cells and can kill them when exposure to specific rays of light - photodynamic therapy - causes it to release nitric oxide.
Pradip Mascharak, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at University of California, Santa Cruz, commented: "For cancer treatment, you want localised delivery of a very high concentration of nitric oxide. We've designed these molecules to do just that."
"The idea for cancer therapy would be to embed the compounds in a matrix that you can place in the treatment site, then shine light on it to produce a high concentration of nitric oxide."
He added that the process had been inspired by natural processes, with scientists tracking the behaviour of nature and appropriating the methods accordingly.
Photodynamic therapy is often used to treat cancers affecting the skin, lung, stomach, mouth, head and neck