When a disease causes more than a quarter of all world deaths, you know that scientific research into its prevention and treatment are paramount. Chances are you know a close friend of family member that was taken from the world too soon by some form of cancer. It’s such a ubiquitous plight upon the human race that sadly it’s hard to imagine a world without it.
But there are people working all over the world to create that world, one step at a time. While it may not seem like much progress has been made, in the last 15 years the disease has come from being a death sentence to a problem with a potential solution. Over the last decade alone, death rates from cancer in the UK has dropped by 10 per cent, which is a stunning figure when you stop and think about it.
Yet there is still a long way to go in reducing the impact of the prolific disease in the future – and that’s where places like Cancer Research UK come in, funding various research projects which hope to eventually stamp out the dreaded disease for good. Recently, there has been a breakthrough that may be a major step towards that goal.
Scientists at Edinburgh University, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Zaragoza’s Institute of Nanoscience of Aragon in Spain, have conducted successful tests using gold. Using minute fragments of the precious metal, these particles were then introduced as a catalyst to help improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy treatments.
Encased in a chemical device, gold nanoparticles were used in conjunction with current cancer drugs. The gold helps the medication to more precisely target diseased cells, without damaging healthy tissue – therefore reducing the harmful side effects of chemotherapy.
This was tested on the brain of a zebrafish, and the test was entirely successful. The treatment has not yet been tested on humans, but after more safety tests this could help reduce cancer’s mortality rate further. The study was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and Cancer Research UK.
CRUK’s Dr. Asier Unciti-Broceta explained the news:
“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 was published in the scientific journal Angewandte Chemie, and will hopefully lead to more effective treatments in the future. “It could help improve treatment for brain tumours and other hard-to-treat cancers”, Dr. Aine McCarthy, CRUK’s senior science information officer said, “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”.
Given the incredibly small size of a nanoparticle, it’s unlikely that this treatment will be as expensive as you might have thought when you heard the word “gold”. Hopefully we’ll be able to see the results of this work in our day-to-day lives someday soon.