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Gold raises hopes for 'better and safer' cancer treatments, say UK researchers

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A tiny medical device containing gold specks could boost the effects of cancer medication and reduce its harm, a UK study has suggested.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh found that gold increased the effectiveness of chemotherapy used to treat lung cancer cells.

“Studies like this have the potential to improve cancer treatment and reduce side effects”

Áine McCarthy

They discovered properties of the precious metal that allow these catalytic abilities to be accessed in living things without any side effects.

Minute fragments, known as gold nanoparticles, were encased in a chemical device by the research team to control these highly-specific reactions in exact locations.

Gold is a safe chemical element and has the ability to accelerate – or catalyse – chemical reactions, noted the study authors.

Their device was shown to catalyse a directed chemical reaction when implanted in the brain of zebrafish, which they said suggested that it could 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, said the researchers.

Charities said the new findings could help researchers use the device to reduce side effects of current chemotherapies by precisely targeting diseased cells without damaging healthy tissue.

The study, published in the journal Angewandte Chemie, was carried out in collaboration with researchers at the University of Zaragoza’s Institute of Nanoscience of Aragon in Spain.

It was part-funded by the charity Cancer Research UK and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

University of Edinburgh

Gold raises hopes for ‘better and safer’ chemotherapy

Dr Asier Unciti-Broceta

Study author Dr Asier Unciti-Broceta, from the charity’s centre at Edinburgh University, 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,” he said.

“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,” he added.

Dr Áine McCarthy, Cancer Research UK’s senior science information officer, said: “By developing new, better ways of delivering cancer drugs, studies like this have the potential to improve cancer treatment and reduce side effects.

“In particular, it could help improve treatment for brain tumours and other hard-to-treat cancers,” she said.

She added: “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.”

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