Gold molecules point to the future of cancer treatment


Newly engineered gold based molecules look to be safer and more effective at fighting cancer than prominent platinum based therapies.
For the past few decades, platinum based cisplatin has been a compound of choice in the treatment of many cancers. It is especially effective at halting testicular cancer, with a success rate of more than 90%.
However, the usefulness of cisplatin and other metal based cancer drugs has been limited due to their toxicity, their resistance to other drugs in a person’s system, and a lack of long term stability.
Now, a study by RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia — the results of which appear in Chemistry: A European Journal — has announced the engineering of four gold based, bioactive molecules for use in cancer treatment.
Preclinical trials have shown these molecules to be up to 24 times as effective as cisplatin at killing some cancer cells.
They are also better at arresting tumor growth, and they are resistant to other medications, allowing them to remain effective for longer. “Our results show there’s incredible potential here for the development of new cancer fighting therapeutics that can deliver lasting power and precision.” People have known about the therapeutic benefits of metal for thousands of years.
Metals, after all, are naturally occurring elements involved in a range of cellular activities, and they are compatible with the human body — at least up to a point. Establishing the optimal safe dosage has been challenging.
Nonetheless, the ancient Egyptians and Chinese (among others) successfully used gold and copper to treat syphilis. Likewise, physicians of classical Greece dispensed cinnabar (mercury sulfide) to treat eye disease, trachoma, and other conditions.
In the mid-1960s, researcher Barnett Rosenberg was conducting experiments with Escherichia coli bacteria when he discovered that powering up his platinum electrodes — which he ironically selected for their presumed inertness — caused cell division in his samples to abruptly stop. He soon found the reason: a compound, called cisplatin, which the electrodes had produced.
Rosenberg’s further investigation revealed cisplatin’s remarkable efficacy at halting the growth of tumors in mice.
Since its eventual approval for human use in 1978, cisplatin has become an important tool in fighting cancer — both on its own and in combination with other compounds.
The team that engineered the new molecules — RMIT’s Molecular Engineering Group — brings together synthetic chemists and pharmacologists who share decades of experience at developing gold molecules for specific uses.

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