Combo of gold and tea may effectively treat cancer better than chemo

Gold may have more than just monetary value.  It may be an effective tool against fighting deadly forms of cancer as well.

Scientists from the University of Missouri have discovered a way to target prostate tumors by using radioactive gold nanoparticles in combination with a compound found in tea leaves.  They say the treatment could be drastically less harmful than chemotherapy options.

Currently, cancer patients require large doses of chemotherapy to help eradicate their cancer cells.  However, while the chemicals help to shrink tumors, they also spread throughout other parts of the body, harming vital organs and causing various adverse health effects.

According to this most recent study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the new gold/tea treatment would require doses that are thousands of times smaller than typical chemotherapy.  The compound also travels directly to the tumor’s source without spreading throughout the rest of the body and causing harm to other areas.

“These types of chemicals in tea have the properties capable of converting gold salt into nanoparticles,” Kattesh Katti, senior research scientist at the MU Research Reactor as well as the study’s lead author, told  “They are found in all teas - green tea, black tea, etc.  These chemicals have an affinity to the chemicals that are in the prostate cancer cells.  So they take these nanoparticles and keep them within the tumor for as long as it takes to eliminate the tumor.”

“We were able to reduce the tumor size by 70 to 80 percent,” Katti added.

In order to combat the tumor cells, the gold was initially given radiochemical properties, allowing it to emit beta rays which shrink the tumor.

“It’s actually a fairly simple process,” Cathy Cutler, research professor at the MU Research Reactor and co-author of the study, told “We take just natural gold, and we more or less eradiate it in the research reactor,” which according to Katti is one of the few places in the world able to produce therapeutic radioisotopes.  “We then take that gold and react that with components from the tea and make nanoparticles.”

Since the gold’s radioactivity has a half-life of 2.7 days, the nanoparticles take close to three days to decay by half their amount, making them effective for up to three weeks.

To test the particles’ efficiency, the team utilized the treatment in mice with human prostate cancer cells.  When the nanoparticles were injected into the subjects along with the tea compound – known as Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) – the particles were both protected and then transported by the EGCG straight to the source of the tumor.

“I use a simple example,” Katti explained of the process. “Imagine a limousine – the EGCG is the limo and the nanoparticles of gold are the passengers.  The passengers board the limo, the limo takes them to the tumor, they see the horror of the tumor and start to fight it.”

According to Cutler, current therapy for aggressive prostate cancer involves injecting hundreds of radioactive ‘seeds’ into the prostate – a method she said is ineffective due to the size of the seeds and their inability to deliver doses that are effective.  The size of the gold nanoparticles, Cutler said, allows them to stay close to the tumor without spreading and damaging other parts of the body.

“There’s been a lot of interest in using gold for treating cancer because the nuclear properties are fairly ideal,” Cutler said.  “However, it has a lot of redox chemistry, so the body either reduces its size or oxidizes it throughout the rest of the body.  But when we transform them into these nanoparticles, they more or less stays where we’re targeting them to go.”

Katti and Cutler both agreed that their new treatment would not be a substitute for chemotherapy, but perhaps an aid to existing therapies.

“There’s a hope that eventually the therapies will work in combination,” Katti said.  “Our therapy might work to control the primary therapy.  The majority of these [chemotherapy] agents do not destroy the primary site of the tumor.  So these patients are given agents again and again, but the tumor cells at the primary site keep spreading throughout body.  Perhaps we can control the size of the tumor [with this new treatment], stop it from spitting out those tumor cells, and use chemotherapy to get rid of the rest of the tumor cells throughout the body.”

Overall, Katti noted the straightforwardness of their therapy, with hopes of testing it on larger animals such as dogs relatively soon.  Katti also predicted that human clinical trials were not far off either – perhaps within the next five years.

“We look forward to eliminating pain and suffering through this approach,” Katti said.  “And this is a very simple approach.  The chemical we use has already been through the human food chain for thousands of year.  Most populations in the world consume tea.  It will make patients and non patients alike very comfortable.”