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Precious Metals in Medicine – How Gold Can Treat Cancer

Scientist holding gold in a test tube in a research laboratory.

Nanotechnology, which is basically the manipulation of a functional system at a molecular scale, is one of the most popular fields of scientific and medical research. New methods, utilizing nanotechnology, have been developed when it comes to diagnosing cancer, but, unfortunately, the diagnosis is only the beginning, with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation likely to follow, each bringing with them serious side effects. However, scientists now believe that they may have found a way to utilize gold and nanotechnology together, and may be able to treat cancer without any of the severe side effects. OROGOLD investigates into how gold could be used to treat cancer.

Why Gold?
In Ancient China, alchemists used to eat gold, believing that it would make them immortal, since it never rots, even within the body. Although the details weren’t fully recorded, this theory was partially correct – gold in itself is immortal. Since the metal doesn’t interact with other compounds, it doesn’t corrode, which means that it is non-toxic for the body.

How Can Gold Help to Treat Cancer?
A study carried out by researchers at Rice University in Texas saw oncologists injecting cancer patients with tiny, gold-wrapped spheres. The nanoparticles contained in this find their way out of the bloodstream and into the tumor. Once there, a near-infrared light is blasted onto it, and the nanoparticles in the gold convert this light to heat, which, in turn, shrivels and disintegrates the tumor. The clinical trials that have been carried out, on patients with head, neck and lung cancers, have seen tumors eradicated without the need for surgery, which is a huge success for the industry. Researchers at Northwestern University have also discovered a way to use gold to treat B-cell lymphoma, a common form of cancer, by tricking the cancer cells into ‘eating’ gold nanoparticles. Once they have done so, the gold nanoparticles make it impossible for the cancer cells to ingest anything else, which then starves them, ending in their death.

How Much Gold is Needed?
Gold can be expensive, which means that the cost of some of the therapies that utilize gold could potentially be unaffordable for many. However, there are also some potential therapies that only use a small amount of gold, about 3% of what is found in a typical wedding band.

Further Studies
Although utilizing gold and nanotechnology to treat cancer has seen some degree of success, there are still many obstacles to be overcome. In order for nanotechnology to work at a molecular scale, everything needs to be miniaturized, meaning that researchers need to fully investigate whether these new gold-based treatments are actually good for the body, because, since nanoparticles are of such a tiny size, they can infiltrate into almost anything, possibly causing damage to cells or DNA. Further research also needs to be carried out on how these gold particles can be removed from the body once they have done their job. Special disposal methods also need to be developed, to prevent any potentially harmful particles from entering into the environment or, even worse, a water supply.

Researchers all over the world are now looking at different ways to harness the many properties of gold to help them to treat the different forms of cancer. If successful, the research could change the face of cancer treatment as we know it, introducing non-invasive methods of eradicating tumors, without any of the serious side effects that cancer patients currently have to suffer through.



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