Scientists are developing a “golden bullet against breast cancer”, the Daily Mail has reported. The newspaper says that the new research has tested the use of tiny shards of gold to heat up and destroy the deadly cells that help tumours grow.
The story is based on a laboratory study using lasers to heat tiny gold “nano-shells” injected into breast cancer tissue extracted from humans and mice. It specifically looked at using the technique to fight cancer stem cells, a type of resilient cancer cell thought to cause relapses and spreading of cancer. Combining this heating, known as ‘hyperthermia’, with radiotherapy reduced the stem cells’ growth compared to when radiotherapy was used alone.
Although this particular treatment shows promise, it is some way from being usable as a treatment for women with breast cancer. Before it could be tested in humans, this type of new treatment would have to undergo the usual, well-defined sequence of pre-clinical trials to demonstrate its safety and effectiveness. However, the authors report that similar types of heat are currently being trialled as treatments for other types of cancer, which may soon inform us of the technique’s potential.
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.
When tested in mice, tiny pieces of silica, each thinner than a human hair, were coated in gold and injected into breast tumours.
High temperatures are known to damage the inside of cells, making them more vulnerable to radiation.
The combination treatment, which is known as hyperthermia, not only shrank the tumours but also cut the number of stem cells.
When the team conducted a similar experiment on tumours formed from human cells, the cancer stem cells proved more sensitive to radiation.
“Although the gold nanoshells still require further testing, hyperthermia treatments are already in clinical trials and radiation is a staple of cancer therapy.”
“This suggests the dual hyperthermia-radiation cancer therapy should be amenable to a clinical setting.”