What is the first thing that comes to your mind when someone asks you about the medical uses of gold?
Most people would have a pretty hard time coming up with any answers besides gold teeth. But we’re about to blow your mind – the medical field has been quite busy behind the scenes discovering interesting ways this precious metal can be harnessed. For instance, did you know that people in clinical trials are wearing tiny microscopic units of gold that help doctors detect diseases like AIDS and HIV early on? Or that there are cancer trial treatments that are using gold nano-sized spheres to fight cancer cells without harming the healthy ones? Sound like a sci-fi movie? We agree; but all these medical advances have been happening for well over a decade.
It turns out that gold plays a pretty crucial role in the medical field. It has properties like no other metals in the market, and even when the amounts used in experiments are tiny, the added value and potential impact to individuals’ lives are turning out to be pretty significant. This is partly due to this precious metal’s unique properties; gold can destroy bacteria, disinfect, improve the body’s immunity and aid our organs’ performance. It’s the most malleable and ductile of all metals; meaning, it’s incredibly efficient for transmitting heat and electricity. It also has the highest corrosion resistance of all the metals, so you don’t have to worry about having a gold implant ever getting rusty.
We have compiled a list of some of the ways gold is being used in medicine right now:
1. A powerful diagnosis element
Researchers at Imperial College London have developed gold nanoparticles with the support from the World Gold Council, and with a goal of focusing on HIV/AIDS diagnosis. Their experimental techniques can sense the presence of a HIV/AIDS molecule at ultra-low concentration, improving early detection of the disease.
Thanks to gold’s stable, adaptable and biocompatible properties, scientists can synthesise gold nanoparticles of various shapes and sizes, consistently and at scale, and use them in the body without causing any side effects.1
So, what are gold nanoparticles? These are particles measured in nanometers, 100,000 times smaller than the diameter of a hair. To put it into perspective: if the diameter of a hair was scaled to the height of the Empire State Building, a red blood cell would rise to the 10th floor, a bacteria cell would be three floors high, while a nanometer would be about a quarter of an inch tall.
Gold nanoparticles are so effective that they can detect HIV viruses in blood samples with virus concentrations 100,000 times lower than the conventional test methods needed for detection. Doing it this way also saves a lot of time by accelerating test processing times to within five hours, making it the fastest processing time ever recorded for HIV detection.
If that wasn’t enough, gold nanoparticles are being used to diagnose malaria as well.2
2. A tool to help fight arthritis
Injectable gold may work best in the early stages of arthritis. In some cases, it’s known to help relieve joint pain and stiffness, reduce swelling and bone damage, and reduce the chance of joint deformity and disability.
3. A form of cancer treatment
A method that is currently being tested delivers anti-cancer drugs directly to tumours using gold nanoparticles. Oncologists inject cancer patients with these gold-wrapped spheres, which then accumulate in a tumor until the oncologist blasts them with near-infrared light. The spheres are made to absorb certain wavelengths of light, converting them into heat. As temperatures in the tumor climb above 104 degrees Fahrenheit, the cancer cells deform, shrink and collapse. As a result, malignant cells die, and healthy ones remain undamaged. All without harming the patient’s healthy cells.
If you want to check out how the process works, here’s an interesting two minute animation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q1y1uO6Hvk0
4. A stretchable electronic
Gold is also helping bring the fields of advanced electronics and medicine closer together. In the U.S. there’s a start-up company called MC10 that’s commercialising a range of “stretchable electronics”. This refers to gold wires a few hundred nanometres thick that are applied to stretchable implants with a huge range of potential applications, including monitoring patients’ vital signs and warning doctors of potential health problems.
5. A heart of gold (literally)
Did you know that people with severe metal allergies can’t use regular pacemakers? The workaround here is that people have received, and are successfully using gold-coated pacemaker generators. The big ‘but’ is that these are extremely rare and cost thousands of dollars more than regular pacemakers, which means demand for them is low.
6. A fountain of youth?
Gold’s antioxidant and antimicrobial properties are used widely among dermatologists. Colloidal gold (liquid form) helps to re-texture and repair skin damage. These days we can find a wide range of gold-infused skincare products containing a strong blend of active ingredients, that are infused with colloidal gold promising a firming effect and improving skin elasticity.
The steady demand
Darren Rowles, President and CEO and SONA Nanotech identifies a huge opportunity for the use of gold in nanotechnology, especially in China. “I have experienced first-hand the growing demand for innovative gold nanoparticle products. China in particular is a vast untapped market with the healthcare industry being especially focused on lateral flow diagnostic testing products, specifically those targeting heart disease,” he says.
Often associated with jewelry and gold teeth, most of us aren’t aware of just how precious gold is to the medical field. All these incredible breakthroughs that we have discussed in this post have been happening for well over a decade. This can only mean that we will be seeing an increase in the use of gold in medicine, and a thorough exploration and advancement in nanotechnology. So, let’s revisit that first question: how many medical uses of gold are you aware of now?