It sounds like something out of science fiction, or perhaps some medieval alchemy book – using gold and lasers to fight cancer! However, far from being a high-tech fantasy or the kooky ramblings of a Dark Ages recluse, the use of minuscule gold particles and short pulses of laser light have proven to be an effective way to help fight cancer.
A recent study published earlier this year in Nature Nanotechnology showed the feasibility of destroying cancerous cells with gold colloids – that is, particles of gold suspended in a fluid or gel. The researchers, headed by a team at Rice University, attached cancer antibodies to the gold particles to help them seek out cancer cells.
This is where things got tricky. Once the gold-plus-antibody particles found a cancer cell, the team then used a laser to heat up the gold particles and create what are known as “plasmonic nanobubbles” that then would kill the nearby cancer cells.
They even took a short video of a cancer cell exploding during this treatment.
This is not the first time researchers have tried to treat cancer using gold. However, it is the first time that they have been able to successfully use gold to differentiate between cancer cells and healthy tissue.
Future Uses of Gold and Laser Treatments
As it stands, the process has only been tested in mice, and it will be some time before it starts to be used in humans. Also, it is unlikely to replace any of the standard cancer treatments any time soon.
Most likely, this gold-and-laser technique will be used for cleaning up cancer cells that remain in the body. Because the cold particles are attached with specific cancer-seeking antibodies, they will be able to travel through the body to find cancer cells left behind after debulking surgery.
Given the targeted nature of this treatment, it has the potential to replace systemic chemotherapy treatments or even radiation treatments, which are necessarily broader in scope. The antibodies attached to the gold particles will seek out cancer cells specifically, and any possible damage to the body would be minimal and localized, possibly reducing recovery time significantly, and hopefully even reducing the likelihood of recurrence.
Can Gold and Lasers Treat Mesothelioma?
One of the biggest problems with mesothelioma treatment – and the treatment of cancer in general – is making sure all of the cancerous cells are removed from the body, either through surgery or by killing them with chemotherapy and/or radiation treatments. Any cells that remain in the body could quickly reproduce, causing new tumors to form and ultimately leading to a recurrence.
According to reports about the gold and laser study, this new treatment could be extremely effective at discovering and destroying any cancer cells that are left behind. Rosemarie Hunziker, Director of the program for Tissue Engineering at the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, has stated, “The laser pulse only causes the nanobubble-induced damage in the remaining cancer cells with gold particles and are the only ones destroyed.” That makes this a particularly attractive treatment, since healthy body tissues would not be damaged.
This is especially attractive as an alternative to chemotherapy, which targets all fast-growing cells regardless of whether they are cancer cells or cells from healthy tissue. This results in many of the side effects and secondary conditions often associated with cancer treatment, from black fingernails to loss of hair, and others. Since the gold and laser treatment would target only cancer cells, it is likely that these types of side effects and secondary conditions would no longer be an issue.
While it will likely be some time before this treatment is used to treat mesothelioma specifically, there is definitely hope that it could become a great new tool in the arsenal of fighting this deadly disease. Along with other emerging treatments, such as immunotherapy and gene therapy, this new gold and laser treatment could prove an effective new therapy for mesothelioma.