Tiny flecks of gold may help treat cancer, say scientists who found that a medical device containing nanoparticles of the precious metal could boost the effects of lung cancer medication and reduce its harm.
Researchers, including those from University of Edinburgh in the UK, showed that gold increased the effectiveness of drugs used to treat lung cancer cells.
The device could help to reduce side effects of current chemotherapies by precisely targeting diseased cells without damaging healthy tissue, researchers said.
Gold is a safe chemical element and has the ability to accelerate - or catalyse - chemical reactions.
Researchers 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.
The device was shown to catalyse a directed chemical reaction when implanted in the brain of 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, researchers 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," said Asier Unciti-Broceta, from University of Edinburgh.
"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," Unciti-Broceta added.
The study was published in the journal Angewandte Chemie.
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