Tiny gold balls can kill brain cancer cells

New research suggests that gold could be the key to killing off brain cancer.

Scientists from Cambridge University made miniature golden balls (not that kind) and coated each one with cisplatin, a chemotherapy drug. Then they infused those into cancer cells taken from patients and used conventional radiotherapy on them. This activated the gold to release electrons, damaging the cancer cells’ DNA, which killed existing diseased cells. After 20 days, no further cells had replicated, indicating that this could be an effective treatment option in future.

Although of course all cancer breakthroughs are good news, this one is especially important given that the type of cancer being studied, glioblastoma multiforme, is so aggressive. The most common type of brain cancer, it affects 4000 people in the UK each year and proves fatal within 5 years in 94% of cases. Tumour cells often surround healthy tissue, making it all but impossible to remove.

Researchers have been working instead on therapies that can specifically target the cancer cells. As the BBC reports, the team behind the study used chemotherapy and radiotherapy along with the nanospheres of gold (each of which is four million times thinner than a strand of human hair) to maximise the potential benefits of each.

They’re now planning to test the technique on other traditionally treatment-resistant forms of cancer, and hope to start human trials for patients with glioblastoma multiforme in the next couple of years.

Image credit: M Welland

Diane Shipley

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