Science

Here's how tiny gold flecks could help fight cancer

The metal has the ability to accelerate – or catalyse – chemical reactions.

Tiny flecks of gold could be used in the fight against cancer, new research has suggested.

Scientists at Edinburgh University have just completed a study which shows the precious metal increased the effectiveness of drugs used to treat lung cancer cells.

Minute fragments, known as gold nanoparticles, were encased in a chemical device by the research team.

While this has not yet been tested on humans, it is hoped such a device could one day be used to reduce side effects of current chemotherapy treatments by precisely targeting diseased cells without damaging healthy tissue.

Gold flakes.
Scientists say gold is safe for humans (SageElyse/Getty Images)

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

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh discovered properties of the metal that allow these catalytic abilities to be accessed in living things without any side effects.

The device was shown to be effective after being implanted in the brain of a zebrafish, suggesting it can be used in living animals.

The study was carried out in collaboration with researchers at the University of Zaragoza’s Institute of Nanoscience of Aragon in Spain, with funding coming from Cancer Research UK (CRUK), and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Scientist looking through a microscope.
The device has not been tested on humans yet (David Davies/PA)

Dr Asier Unciti-Broceta, from the University of Edinburgh’s CRUK Edinburgh Centre, 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.”

The research is published in the scientific journal Angewandte Chemie.

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