Using gold as a potential treatment for cancer could become a reality thanks to a combination of imaging techniques.
In work published recently in The Royal Society of Chemistry journal Metallomics, researchers at The University of Western Australia and Griffith University's Institute for Glycomics describe how using two imaging techniques allows scientists to see where gold complexes used in potential chemotherapeutic treatments end up in cells.
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, who carried out the work while at UWA's School of Biomedical, Biomolecular and Chemical Sciences, and her colleagues, write 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.
The analysis was undertaken by UWA's Centre for Microscopy, Characterisation and Analysis.
"In the past few years, there has been a resurgence of interest in the medicinal chemistry of gold compounds, particularly as anticancer agents," they write.
"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."
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.
Reference: L E Wedlock, M R Kilburn, J B Cliff, L Filgueira, M Saunders and S J Berners-Price, Metallomics, 2011, DOI: 10.1039/c1mt00053e
Dr Louise Wedlock
Associate Professor Matt Kilburn (UWA Centre for Microscopy, (+61 8) 6488 8068
Characterisation and Analysis)
Louise Durack (Griffith University Communications) (+61 7) 5552 8654 / (+61 4) 19 649 516
Janine MacDonald (UWA Public Affairs) (+61 8) 6488 5563 / (+61 4) 32 637 716