Gold puts heat on leukaemia

hoffmanLeukaemia cells have a golden assassin on their trail. Researchers at Flinders University are working on the development of a treatment for leukaemia that will use the light absorbing properties of gold to attack the cells of the blood-borne cancer.

The patented technique is the result of a collaboration between Flinders University nanotechnologists and medical scientist Associate Professor Peter Macardle at Flinders Medical Centre.

PhD student Mr Lee Hoffman [pictured] said the technique makes use of CD-20 antibodies that are already used to fight leukaemia, employing them as carriers for the gold.

The gold, contained in a protein-like substance called dendrimer, is attached to an antibody that seeks out and binds on to a cancer cell. After the antibodies and their cargo have found their target, intense laser light shone on to the body is absorbed by the gold nano-particles. The gold converts the light to heat, causing the cancer cells to rupture and die.

The specific targeting of leukaemia cells gives the technique advantages over the whole body approach employed by radiotherapy and chemotherapy. And by its direct “search and destroy” action, it also overcomes the risk of the human immune system developing resistance to the antibodies.

The effectiveness and speed of antibody action varies from patient to patient, Mr Hoffman said.

“The antibody will always attach to the cancer cell, but instead of relying on the antibody to do the work of breaking the cell down, we’re getting the gold nano-particle to heat and rupture the cell,” he said.

“If the technique works the way we hope, it will be highly targeted and efficient.”

While laser light wavelengths penetrate the body sufficiently to work against blood-borne cancer, further research, supervised by Professor Nico Voelcker and Dr Stephen Clarke, will explore the possibility of heating the gold nano-particles with radio waves or low-frequency microwaves.

“That will give us a form of radiation that will allow us to target internal organs and yet will only affect the localised areas where the gold has attached,” Mr Hoffman said.

Development of the research and its applications has been supported by the Federal Government through the award of a prestigious Endeavour International Postgraduate Research Scholarship to Mr Hoffman, and further funding support to commercialise the research will be sought from BioInnovation SA.

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