"There is the real potential to design instrumentation to allow noninvasive detection and treatment of the particles in living humans," Mostafa said. "The particles can be used to create multiple designer agents targeted toward specific cancers. Much work still needs to be done, but at some point, we hope to be able to inject these compounds into patients with cancer in a search-and-destroy mission. Finding cancers not apparent to the eye will help physicians detect cancers earlier. Exposing the cells to the correct amount of light would then cause destruction of the cancer cells only and leave the healthy cells alone."
The technique isn't toxic to human cells. "Gold nanoparticles have been used in humans for 50 years," Ivan said. "For example, in the past, a radioactive form of colloidal gold has been used to search for cancerous lymph nodes."
"Our technique is very simple and inexpensive--only a few cents worth of gold can yield results. We think it holds great promise to reduce the time, effort, and expense in cancer research, detection, and therapy in humans and under the microscope," he added.
Ivan, who sees many patients with oral cancers, hopes that in the not-too-distant future his research will pay off for his patients. "Our best chance to save lives is to catch cancer and treat it early. Our work with gold nanoparticles may result in a valuable tool in fighting not only oral cancers, but also a number of other types, including stomach, colon and skin cancers."
The research was supported by a grant from the Chemical Science, Geoscience and Biosciences Division of the U.S. Department of Energy.
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Contact: Carol Hyman
University of California - San Francisco