Gold shines bright in cancer therapy research: New Edinburgh University study

According to latest research, gold particles can be effective in certain cancer therapy areas. Researchers at the Edinburgh University report in their new study that gold particles can help enhance the effectiveness of the agents used for lung cancer cells. The study is published in the scientific journal Angewandte Chemie.

Gold was chosen for this purpose because it is a safer element. In addition it can also improve and accelerate or facilitate certain chemical reactions. For the study the scientists used gold nanoparticles which are actually very minute particles of the metal. These were then encapsulated within a chemical. The final package could be used to target only the diseased and cancerous cells rather than the healthy cells. This would drastically reduce the harmful and potentially life threatening side effects of chemotherapy as we know it today. Only the diseased cells would be killed sparing the healthy cells of the body.

According to Dr. Asier Unciti-Broceta, from Cancer Research UK's Edinburgh centre, gold was not known to have this property of a delivery metal that could carry the chemotherapy drugs directly into the tumour and thus prevent it from affecting the healthy cells in its path of travel. He added however that this was still very preliminary and more work was needed before it could actually translate into something useful for patients. But Dr. Unciti-Broceta called this a “step forward”. This could lead to a technology in future where a device could be made that could go directly into the tumour and the doctor could control the release of the drug into the tumour alone. This could stop the harmful effects of the chemotherapy on the healthy organs the team explains.  

The study has potential to “improve cancer treatment and reduce side effects” agreed Dr Aine McCarthy, Cancer Research UK's senior science information officer. Dr. McCarthy said that that it could especially be beneficial in treatment of brain tumours and other difficult to treat cancers. Now what remains to be established is how safe this new technique is for humans and what the long and short term side effects of this treatment are. It remains to be seen if this is a better way to treat the cancers.

The researchers used zebrafish for their experiments and soon they said the method could be tried in humans as well after approval from suitable authorities. The researchers implanted the encapsulated gold particles into the brains of the zebrafish. This was done to establish its safety in living animals.

The study was given its present form in collaboration with researchers at the University of Zaragoza's Institute of Nanoscience of Aragon in Spain. Funds were provided by Cancer Research UK (CRUK), and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

History of gold in cancer therapy

This is not the first time that gold nanotechnology has been studied for cancer chemotherapy.

Weibo Cai and colleagues for example in 2008 reported the use of gold nanospheres, rods, shells and cages for use on cancer chemotherapy drug delivery. These could be used not only for treatment but also for imaging studies and radiolabelling they write. They say that the future looks bright for uses of gold nanoparticles and call it a “magic gold bullet against cancer”.




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