Gold's low reactivity makes it safe for use in the human body – for example to coat pacemakers and stents.
It is also the most malleable of the metals, which means it can be beaten into thin sheets and used as a shield against heat and light.
In addition, gold is a ductile metal which means it can be transformed into thin wires or threads, and highly conductive which means it can transfer heat and electricity.
The World Gold Council report Gold 2048 found that use of gold across healthcare is changing rapidly and that gold’s position as a material of choice is expected to continue and evolve over the coming decades.
According to Dr Trevor Keel at the Council, gold compounds are also ‘showing promise as a new class of antibiotic in early-phase clinical studies. It is conceivable that gold-containing drugs will form part of our defence against infection by 2048’.
One example of the use of gold in advanced healthcare is the emergence of gold nanoparticle technology to treat cancer patients who undergo chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Global clinical trials confirm that the use of nanoparticle technology improved the quality of life for patients and decreased the risk of damaging healthy cells in the treatment process, particularly for prostate and breast cancer patients.
These new applications for gold combined with traditional investment demand in growing economies presents a significant opportunity for Australian gold mining companies to play a major role in future global supply chains.
A research team lead by Associate Professor Ivan Kempson at the University of South Australia have discovered a way to cripple a major DNA damage repair mechanism that cancer cells use to recover in between radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatments.
Because radiation treatment and chemotherapy damage healthy cells as well as cancer cells, time is needed in between treatments to allow the healthy cells to repair. Unfortunately this gives the cancer cells an opportunity to repair as well.
Using Associate Professor Kempson’s discoveries, a co-treatment of gold nanoparticles can be developed to specifically attack cancer cells in between radiation treatment and chemotherapy. Overall the treatment could reduce side effects and cost and increase the effectiveness of the treatments.
Molecule designers at RMIT University have successfully engineered four new gold-based molecules that target cancer cells and leave healthy cells unharmed.
Pre-clinical (animal) trials have shown that treatment using the new molecules have been up to 46.9% effective in treating tumour growth for breast, cervical, colon, melanoma and prostate cancer cells compared to 29% for the conventional therapy drug cisplatin.
The designers are one of just a few groups in the world focusing on the medical potential of gold-based therapies.
Icahn School of Medicine/Rice University: Prostate cancer clinical trial
The Icahn School of Medicine in New York conducted a successful clinical trial for the treatment of sixteen men diagnosed with prostate cancer. The patients underwent AuroLase therapy, a nanoparticle-based focal therapy that uses illuminated nanoparticles to heat and destroy tumours.
Out of the sixteen patients ages 58-79, thirteen showed no detectable signs of cancer one year after treatment. The therapy and clinical trial, which originated from Rice University, was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).