Research shows gold nanoparticles can be used to safely kill tumor cells
07/28/2022 // Zoey Sky // Views

Data from ongoing research has found that gold nanoparticles can be used to heat and kill tumor cells with great precision and minimal side effects. This form of hyperthermia is called photothermal therapy and it has had very promising results for various types of cancer.

In the U.S, cancer is the second leading cause of death. The American Cancer Society predicts that in 2022, there will be 1.9 million new cancer cases and over 600,000 cancer deaths or 5,250 new cancer cases every day.

Unfortunately, the leading treatment options for cancer aren't always successful and can cause adverse effects like hair loss, increased risk of infections, nausea, vomiting and the possibility of secondary tumors.

Hyperthermia or overheating is a therapy that uses heat to kill cancer cells. It's best used together with therapies like chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

According to the National Cancer Institute, hyperthermia has been used to treat the following types of advanced cancers: appendix cancer, bladder cancer, brain cancer, breast cancer, cervical cancer, esophageal cancer, head and neck cancer, liver cancer, lung cancer, melanoma, mesothelioma, rectal cancer and sarcoma.

One of the challenges of using hyperthermia to treat cancer is making sure that the heat goes to the right place. This is where gold nanoparticles come in.

Researchers have been eyeing gold as a component for cancer treatment because it is biocompatible as an inert metal. Gold nanoparticles can absorb light energy and heat up to above 113 F.


Near-infrared (NIR) light in the range of 800 to 1200 nanometers can be directed into the body. As NIR light hits the nanoparticles, the latter heat up like how a microwave heats cold coffee but not the mug.

Cancer, heat and gold nanoparticles

Cancer becomes invasive when it spreads beyond the layer of tissue where it developed and into surrounding healthy tissues and lymph nodes. (Related: Study suggests pomegranates can slow the growth of cancer cells.)

When left untreated, cancer cells may enter the blood or lymphatic fluid and move to other tissues or organs. This process of metastasis can eventually cause secondary tumors in the body.

Because cancer is so varied, there is no fully comprehensive approach to treatment. Leading treatment options include chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery.

A significant problem with radiation therapy and chemotherapy is that both can also cause cancer, making secondary cancer a severe possible side-effect.

Much of cancer therapy research is focused on discovering therapies that can complement or replace current therapy options with greater effectiveness and fewer adverse effects.

Tumors are generally more acidic than regular tissues and they often have regions of hypoxia or inadequate oxygen supply. Data from a study published in the International Journal of Hyperthermia shows that these two factors make tumors resistant to chemotherapy and radiation yet more susceptible to heat stress.

Data from one study revealed that hyperthermia causes cell apoptosis or programmed cell death by causing irreparable mitochondrial damage. Another study also showed that hyperthermia can trigger cell necrosis or uncontrolled cell death by damaging the cell membrane and denaturing proteins.


Gold nanoparticles are an ideal candidate for photothermal therapy, which usually uses infrared light to heat tissues. Infrared light can penetrate deep into the body, but it's better if the heat is more intense in the area of the tumor. This can help reduce damage to other tissues.

The size of the gold nanoparticles is also important. Usually, smaller metallic nanoparticles convert light energy to heat energy more efficiently than larger metallic nanoparticles.

However, photothermal therapy alone may not be enough to destroy all the cancer cells in the tumor. Since the blood vessels that feed the tumor are unhealthy, there may be areas of a tumor that don't have a good blood supply. The nanoparticles may not accumulate in these regions since the blood supply is deficient.

Research has also found that surviving tumor cells exposed to heat can quickly become resistant to thermal stress. This is bad because it can cause recurrence and spread of cancer, or metastasis.

Therefore, it is crucial that photothermal therapy is paired with chemotherapy, immunotherapy or radiotherapy in cases where it can't fully destroy the tumor.

As a type of hyperthermia, photothermal therapy used in combination with other cancer therapies shows great potential in treating primary tumors or metastatic cancer for certain types of cancer.

With ongoing studies, experts hope that photothermal therapy can one day become an available option for cancer patients.

Watch the video below to know more about alternative cancer treatments.

This video is from the Conners Clinic channel on

More related stories:

Studies suggest boron has potent cancer-fighting properties.

Medical scientists cautiously describe 100% CURE for cancer using new monoclonal antibody treatment.

Animal drug fenbendazole shows promise in treating parasites, cancer in humans.

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