Tiny fragments of gold could be used in the fight against cancer, according to scientists at the University of Edinburgh.
Researchers found that the precious metal could be used in such a way so that it increases the effectiveness of other drugs prescribed to treat lung cancer cells.
Microscopic pieces of the precious metal – known as nanoparticles – were encased in a chemical device and used to accelerate other chemical reactions.
While the medical study involved zebrafish, the team of researchers said they were hopeful a similar technique could be applied to develop human treatments.
"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 tumors very safely," said Dr Asier Unciti-Broceta, from Cancer Research U.K.'s Edinburgh center.
"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 tumors and reduce harmful effects to healthy organ," Dr Unciti-Broceta added.
The method used by the team of researchers at the University of Edinburgh aims to reduce the side effects of current chemotherapy treatments by specifically targeting the diseased cells without damaging healthy tissue.
Dr Aine McCarthy, Cancer Research U.K.'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. 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."
The research was carried out in connection with scientists at the University of Zaragoza's Institute of Nanoscience Aragon in Spain, with funding from the Physical Sciences Research Council and Cancer Research U.K.
The study was published in the scientific journal Angewandte Chemie in July.