Science News

Gold, frankincense and myrrh

Sun, 16th Dec 2007

Listen Now    Download as mp3 from the show The Naked Scientists Christmas Special

It may seem unlikely, but the first Christmas gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh have a connection to today’s cutting edge cancer research, according to the science charity Cancer Research UK.

FrankincenseFor example, Gold holds exciting potential for use in cancer research.  Scientists are investigating the potential of gold nanoparticles for cancer imaging, and in treatments that specifically target cancer cells.  And if you’re into medically useful bling, you could also try platinum, which is a fundamental component of the cancer drugs cisplatin and carboplatin.  In fact, Cancer Research UK was heavily involved in the development of both of these drugs.

Frankincense is a plant extract, and we all know that these can be rich sources of biologically active molecules. Some scientists funded by Cancer Research UK are currently involved in chemoprevention research, which aims to identify chemicals in plants that have the potential to prevent cancer. These can then be tested further in the laboratory and in patients, and could one day prove to have an important role to play in both the prevention and treatment of cancer. 

For example, researchers in Leicester are investigating specific compounds in plants that could be purified and turned into cancer-preventing drugs. These include Resveratrol, found in red wine, silibinin from Milk Thistle, and curcumin, usually found in the curry spice turmeric.       

myrrhFinally, myrrh is a tree extract.  In the same way, the molecules that led to taxane drugs for cancer, including Taxol, were isolated from extracts from yew trees.  Cancer Research UK is now funding work to find out why some people with ovarian cancer develop resistance to taxane treatment, and who will benefit from the drug. 

And if you’re stuck for a last-minute gift idea, you can actually help to support Cancer Research UK’s work by buying one of the charity’s virtual gifts – you can clothe a scientist, support a clinical trial or research in a UK town near you, or even buy some food for lab yeast! Check our www.sendandgive.org for more ideas.

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