Tiny gold pieces could have an invaluable role to play in the global cancer fight, researchers in Scotland and Spain suggest.
The international team, comprising Edinburgh and Zaragoza university representatives, has just finished a landmark gold nanoparticles study.
The study results indicate that the precious metal makes lung cancer treatment drugs more effective. The researchers don’t yet know whether that’s the case for animals and humans, but it’s hoped that their discovery helps bring next-gen cancer therapies closer into view.
Gold Cancer Treatment
Cancer claims more than 450 lives each day and that’s just in the United Kingdom. Simultaneously, approximately 30 new cancer diagnoses are made every hour. While anti-cancer drugs are ever-evolving, healthy tissue damage remains a common side effect, according to the University of Edinburgh’s gold cancer treatment news release.
Gold – a much-revered precious metal – catalyses chemical reactions: i.e. it speeds them up. Nanoparticles are particles on a nanoscale level. Also known as ultrafine particles, they range from 100 nanometres down to just a single nanometre in size.
Integrated Gold Nanoparticles
The Scottish and Spanish researchers – based at Cancer Research UK’s Edinburgh Centre and the Instituto de Nanociencia de Aragón (Institute of Nanoscience of Aragon) respectively - found out how to unleash gold’s catalytic properties in living cells without producing adverse effects.
By integrating gold nanoparticles into a chemical device, they gained precise control over where the catalytic reactions occurred. They – in other words – carried out targeted catalysis and there were several test subjects.
Initially, the researchers used zebrafish - which are widely-deployed medical research platforms – and obtained results intimating that all living animals could benefit. They then introduced gold nanoparticles to a mixture of cancer treatment drugs and lung cancer cells. Again, the nanoparticles enhanced the drugs’ performance level.
Targeted Cancer Therapy
“We have discovered new properties of gold that were previously unknown and our findings suggest that the metal could be used to release drugs inside tumours very safely”, commented the University of Edinburgh’s Dr Asier Unciti-Broceta. “There is still work to do before we can use this on patients, but this study is a step forward. We hope that a similar device in humans could one day be implanted by surgeons to activate chemotherapy directly in tumours and reduce harmful effects to healthy organs.”
The study appears in the ‘Angewandte Chemie’ scientific journal. Funding for it was supplied by two sources: the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and Cancer Research UK.
“By developing new, better ways of delivering cancer drugs, studies like this have the potential to improve cancer treatment and reduce side effects”, added the latter’s Dr Áine McCarthy. “In particular, it could help improve treatment for brain tumours and other hard-to-treat cancers. The next steps will be to see if this method is safe to use in people, what its long- and short-term side effects are, and if it’s a better way to treat some cancers.
Gold nanoparticles image copyright US National Institute of Standards and Technology – courtesy Wikimedia Commons
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