Gold discovery could improve cancer treatment

Supplementary content information

Close up on a stack of gold bars


Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)-funded researchers have discovered new properties of gold which could be utilised to improve the effectiveness of cancer medication and reduce its harmful effects.

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh have completed a study which demonstrated that when used in a small medical device, gold specks can boost the effectiveness of drugs used to treat lung cancer cells.

The discovery, which the researchers say could also reduce the side effects of chemotherapy treatments by precisely targeting diseased cells without damaging healthy tissue, has been covered by a wide range of media outlets.

The study, carried out in collaboration with the University of Zaragoza's Institute of Nanoscience of Aragon in Spain and also funded by Cancer Research UK, looked at the catalytic properties of gold, which can accelerate chemical reactions.

The new properties discovered by the researchers allow gold's catalytic abilities to be accessed in living things without any side effects.

They encased minute gold nanoparticles in a chemical device to control the reactions in specific locations. The device was shown to catalyse a directed chemical reaction when implanted in the brain of a zebrafish, suggesting it can be used in living animals.

Gold nanoparticles also activated anti-cancer medicines that had been applied to lung cancer cells in a dish, increasing the drugs' effectiveness.

Dr Asier Unciti-Broceta, a Reader in Innovative Therapeutics at the Cancer Research UK Edinburgh Centre and winner of an EPSRC Healthcare Technology Challenge Award, said: 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.

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.

Reference: PN 51-17