Science is just full of surprises! Just when it seems like everything in our environment (yes, even french fries) causes cancer, it is refreshing to hear that something does NOT cause cancer.
Apparently carbon monoxide (CO), which is what makes breathing too much car exhaust lethal, might end up being a treatment for various diseases, including cancer.
CO is an odorless, colorless gas that can kill by depriving the body of oxygen. Most of you know that blood is extremely important because it carries and delivers oxygen throughout our bodies. Our blood owes this cool ability to the presence of hemoglobin, which is a protein that binds to oxygen. Interestingly, hemoglobin also binds to CO, in fact 300 times more, compared to oxygen, and that is why CO can easily displace oxygen from hemoglobin. So yes, CO is bad for us, in excessive amounts.
But did you know that our body makes CO?! Yes, it does, and as it turns out, CO is an important gaseous signaling molecule. In very minute amounts, CO appears to protect the heart, maintain healthy blood vessels, prevent inflammation, and YES, even fight cancer.
There are several clinical trials studying the therapeutic potential of CO in a variety of disease conditions. The trickiest part has been figuring out how to get the extra CO to where it might be needed. The idea of just inhaling CO sounds dangerous and would be very non-specific. Therefore, a whole field in chemistry is growing, as chemists try to design the perfect CO-releasing molecule (CO-RM), a drug that can be injected or ingested, which then makes its way to the part of the body where extra CO is needed, and then when it gets there, the CO-RM releases or delivers the CO. As usual, it sounds like science-fiction, until it actually becomes a reality.
Until then, do not try smoking your automobile’s tail pipe!