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Could gold help improve cancer treatment?

PUBLISHED: 10:53 23 August 2010 | UPDATED: 11:57 16 September 2010

TINY particles of gold could be the key to a better type of cancer treatment which Norwich scientists are developing.

Girgis Obaid, a PhD student at the University of East Anglia, is using the gold nano-particles to carry a type of protein around the body.

TINY particles of gold could be the key to a better type of cancer treatment which Norwich scientists are developing.

Girgis Obaid, a PhD student at the University of East Anglia, is using the gold nano-particles to carry a type of protein around the body. The proteins, called lectins, can recognise cancer cells and target them with drug treatment.

He is using phthalocyanines, frequently used to dye everything from blue jeans to the ink in ballpoint pens. They are also used to treat skin cancer and cancer of the mouth, throat and gullet.

Scientists at UEA have previously worked on using phthalocyanines carried by gold nano-particles to destroy cancer cells. But now Mr Obaid is using the lectins to deliver a more targeted and, it is hoped, more effective treatment, which is intended to have fewer side effects.

He said: “We are trying to get the nano-particles to recognise cancer cells based on changes in the sugars in the cells. We do that using proteins called lectins, which recognise specific sugars.

“We are aiming for more specific targeting of the drug. It should be more specific and less invasive, have fewer side effects and people need less of it.”

Mr Obaid, 22, who has just finished the first year of his PhD, lives on Unthank Road in Norwich and is originally from Brighton, He is being supervised by Prof David Russell.

The gold nano-particles he is using are 15,000 times smaller than a grain of sand and are made in the lab using a chemical reaction with gold salts. Gold is used because it is unreactive and will not rust in the body, while the tiny size of the particles mean they can get inside cells.

Phthalocyanines are activated by red light and produce a highly reactive form of oxygen which causes the cancer cells to die. Their use as a treatment for different cancers is limited by how far the light can penetrate into the body, but Mr Obaid hopes his work will help make them useful for cancers of internal organs.

His work has not yet been published and has so far only been tested in cell cultures in a petri dish, although he says the results are promising.

The next stage would be to test it on tissue cultures and clinical trials would follow that.

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