SCIENTISTS in Southampton have helped create a technique which can cause cancer cells to self-destruct by injecting them with salt.

Researchers from the University of Southampton are part of an international team that has helped to create a molecule that can cause cancer cells to die by carrying sodium and chloride ions into the cells.

Synthetic ion transporters have been created before but this is the first time researchers have demonstrated how an influx of salt into a cell triggers cell death.

Now the team led by the Texas University has become the first in the world to successfully demonstrate how the technology can be used to kill cancerous cells with an influx of salt.

But their creation still needs extra woRk before it is safe to use on humans.

Synthetic ion transporter molecules have previously been championed as leading the way to developing anticancer drugs and benefiting patients with cystic fibrosis.

The team is the first to show how they can be used to carry sodium and chloride ions and penetrate cancerous cells and eventually cause them to self destruct.

Cancer disrupts a mechanism called apoptosis – a method where the human body kills off damaged and dangerous cells to protect itself.

But the team has developed synthetic ion transporters attached to chloride ions.

It creates an ‘organic blanket’ around the ion allowing it to dissolve into the cell’s membrane.

Once there it triggers the self destruct process by transport sodium ions in channels inside the membrane which largely consists of lipids or fats.

The Southampton University team has demonstrated how the ion transporters can work by using a model system with utilising artificial lipid membranes.

Academics at Yonsei University were then able to show that these molecules triggered death in cultured human cancer cells.

But the technology is still unsafe to use in cancer treatment as it triggers death in both cancerous and healthy cells.

The experts must build on their research to create a chloride transporter solely binding to cancerous cells.

However, the researchers found that their synthetic molecule triggers programmed cell death in both cancerous and healthy cells. To be useful in treating cancer, a version of a chloride transporter will have to be developed that binds only to cancerous cells.

Southampton University study co-author Professor Philip Gale said: “This work shows how chloride transporters can work with sodium channels in cell membranes to cause an influx of salt into a cell.

“We found we can trigger cell death with salt.”