Tiny pieces of gold may give treatment for aggressive brain cancers a boost, the BBC reported.

For the study, published in the journal Nanoscale, researchers at St. John’s College in the U.K. created microscopic golden nanospheres 4 million times smaller than the cross-section of a single human hair.

Scientists coated the nanospheres in layers of a common chemotherapy drug called cisplatin and found that when applied to the tumor, the cancer cells stopped reproducing and many of them died.

They then tested the golden nanospheres on brain tumor samples given a dose of radiation similar to what a cancer patient would receive. Electrons within the golden core of the nanospheres became “excited,” according to the study, which triggered the breakdown of genetic material, or DNA, within the cancer cells. The process also allowed the chemotherapy to attack the weakened tumor.  

"This is a double-whammy effect,” said Mark Welland, study author and professor at St. John’s College in the U.K. "And by combining this strategy with cancer cell-targeting materials, we should be able to develop therapy for glioblastoma and other challenging cancers in the future."

Twenty days after treatment with this novel therapy, there were no viable cancer cells left in the brain tumor samples, study authors reported.

"We need to be able to hit cancer cells directly with more than one treatment at the same time,” said Dr. Colin Watts, a neurosurgeon involved in the study. "This is important because some cancers are more resistant to one type of treatment than another."

Researchers hope the therapy may provide a way to target hard-to-treat cancers and plan to start human trials in 2016.

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