Golden bullet to kill stubborn cancer cells

Used with radiotherapy, the tiny shards of gold heat up and destroy the deadly cells that help tumours grow and ease their spread around the body.

More resistant to radiotherapy and chemotherapy than other cells, these cancer 'mother cells' or stem cells live on when other cells in the tumour die, allowing it to recur after treatment.

Breast cancer affects some 45,000 British women a year and kills more than 1,000 a month, reports the Daily Mail.

The researchers used 'gold nanoshells' to damage tumour cells, including the mother cells, making them more vulnerable to radiotherapy, according to the journal Science Translational Medicine.

In experiments on mice, tiny pieces of silica -- each thinner than a strand of human hair -- were coated in gold and injected into breast tumours.
A day later, a laser was used to heat up the particles and the animals were given radiotherapy.

High temperatures are known to damage the inside of cells, making them more vulnerable to radiation.

The combination treatment, known as hyperthermia, not only shrank the tumours but also cut the number of stem cells.

The researchers from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, US, then conducted a similar experiment on tumours formed from human cells.

Again, the cancer stem cells proved more sensitive to radiation. A similar technique is already being trialled in people with head and neck cancers.

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