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Common Ingredient in Big Macs and Sodas Can Stabilize Gold Nanoparticles for Medical Use

The future of cancer detection and treatment may be in gold nanoparticles - tiny pieces of gold so small they cannot be seen by the naked eye.// The potential of gold nanoparticles has been hindered by the difficulty of making them in a stable, nontoxic form that can be injected into a patient. New research at the University of Missouri-Columbia has found that a plant extract can be used to overcome this problem, creating a new type of gold nanoparticle that is stable and nontoxic and can be administered orally or injected.

Because gold nanoparticles have a high surface reactivity and biocompatible properties, they can be used for in vivo (inside the bod)) molecular imaging and therapeutic applications, including cancer detection and therapy. The promise of nanomedicine comes from the high surface area and size relationships of nanoparticles to cells, making it possible to target individual cells for diagnostic imaging or therapy. Gold nanoparticles could function as in vivo sensors, photoactive agents for optical imaging, drug carriers, contrast enhancers in computer tomography and X-ray absorbers in cancer therapy. Despite their promise, however, scientists have been plagued with problems making nontoxic gold nanoparticle constructs.

Kattesh Katti, professor of radiology and physics in MU's School of Medicine and College of Arts and Science, and director of the University of Missouri Cancer Nanotechnology Platform, worked with other MU scientists in the fields of physics, radiology, chemistry and veterinary medicine. The team tested plant extracts for their ability as nontoxic vehicles to stabilize and deliver nanoparticles for in vivo nanomedicinal applications. The researchers became interested in gum arabic, a substance taken from species of the acacia tree, because it is already used to stabilize everyday foods such as yogurt, Big Macs and soda. Gum arabic has unique structural features, including a highly branched polysaccharide stru
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