In a lecture he delivered in 1906, the German physician Paul Ehrlich coined the term Zuberkugel, or "magic bullet," as shorthand for a highly targeted medical treatment.
Magic bullets, also called silver bullets, because of the folkloric belief that only silver bullets can kill supernatural creatures, remain the goal of drug development efforts today.
A team of scientists at Washington University in St. Louis is currently working on a magic bullet for cancer, a disease whose treatments are notoriously indiscriminate and nonspecific. But their bullets are gold rather than silver. Literally.
The gold bullets are gold nanocages that, when injected, selectively accumulate in tumors. When the tumors are later bathed in laser light, the surrounding tissue is barely warmed, but the nanocages convert light to heat, killing the malignant cells.
In an article just published in the journal Small, the team describes the successful photothermal treatment of tumors in mice.
The team includes Younan Xia, Ph.D., the James M. McKelvey Professor of Biomedical Engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, Michael J. Welch, Ph.D., professor of radiology and developmental biology in the School of Medicine, Jingyi Chen, Ph.D., research assistant professor of biomedical engineering and Charles Glaus, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Radiology.
"We saw significant changes in tumor metabolism and histology," says Welch, "which is remarkable given that the work was exploratory, the laser 'dose' had not been maximized, and the tumors were 'passively' rather than 'actively' targeted."
Why the nanocages get hot
The nanocages themselves are harmless. "Gold salts and gold colloids have been used to treat arthritis for more than 100 years," says Welch. "People know what gold does in the body and it's inert, so we hope this is going to be a nontoxic approach."
|Contact: Diana Lutz|
Washington University in St. Louis