Treating cancer with gold?

An international team, led by University of Western Australia and Griffith University, has described how using two imaging techniques can allow scientists to see where gold complexes used in potential chemotherapeutic treatments end up in cells, the 'Metallomics' journal reported.

They are also able to monitor the gold's effects on the cells in a non-destructive way. Previous methods for this type of analysis were destructive to the cell.

Lead author Dr Louise Wedlock claims that one technique -- nanoscale secondary ion mass spectrometry -- enabled the visualisation of the gold at a subcellular level. The other technique -- energy filtered transmission electron microscopy -- gave element maps for the gold, allowing the scientists to see nuclear and mitochondrial morphology.

"In the past few years, there has been a resurgence of interest in the medicinal chemistry of gold compounds, particularly as anticancer agents.

"A stimulus for this research has been the increasing realisation that the unique properties of metal ions can be exploited in the design of new drugs.  Certain gold compounds are selectively toxic to cancer cells but not to normal cells.

"However, the development of gold-based chemotherapeutics requires a much deeper understanding of the subcellular biochemical pathways involved," say the scientists.

The combination of methods could also be used to study the subcellular distribution of other types of metal-based drugs, such as platinum anticancer drugs, say the researchers.

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