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Gold particles used for detecting cancer

Gold nanoparticles
Gold nanoparticles

By Adam Allington, KWMU

Columbia, MO – The future of cancer detection and treatment may be in microscopic particles of gold.

Dr. Kattesh Katti is a professor of radiology and physics at the University Of Missouri School Of Medicine. For the past six years Dr. Katti and a team of researchers have studied how so-called "nanoparticles" of gold and silver can be used to create extremely precise diagnostic images.

The researchers recently published a study that describes how nano-medicine will make it easier to detect and treat diseases such as cancer.

"These diseases, they don't just become bulky masses of tissue," says Katti. "To detect and treat the disease at the early stage requires targeting at the cellular and sub-cellular levels."

Katti has tested nanoparticle imaging on pigs, which serve as a good analog because the ratio of their organ size to body size is similar to humans.

He says the next step is to test the method on human organs such as prostate glands or breast tissue.

"We are able to direct these nano-particles to different organs, different types of cancer cells within the body," says Katti.

Katti is able to direct the nanoparticles by attaching them to sub-cellular molecules called "Biomolecules". These biomolecules, attach to certain types of cells, pre-cancerous tissue for example. The nanoparticles then surround the tissue and help radiologists find and diagnose tumors even before they form.

The trick for Katti's team was finding a platform to deliver the particles within the body. Without an effective coasting, nanoparticles of gold tend to bind to each other and negate their effectiveness for imaging purposes. The researcher's breakthrough came in the form of a substance called gum arabic.

"We hypothesized that a complex structure, like gum Arabic, might lock the nanoparticles in solution and keep them from leaching out once inside the body," says Katti.

Gum Arabic is a common food stabilizer found in everything from Big Macs to Soda Pop.