The History of Gold Usage in Medicine 

Apr 10, 2023

Gold has been used for medical purposes since the ancient age. The earliest medical use of gold can be traced back to the Tiongkok in 2500  “Before Christ” (BC), and it was widely used by physicians and surgeons. For example, pure gold was used to treat furuncles, smallpox, and skin ulcers and to remove mercury from skin and flesh. Some ancient sources also noted that gold drugs can cure joint disease and disease in the lungs. There were also ancient prescriptions that contained gold as a trace element for curing measles and other diseases.  

In medieval Europe, alchemists had numerous recipes for an elixir known as aurum potabile, many of which contained little gold. A gold cordial could be found in the new Pharmacopeias of the 17th century and was advocated by Nicholas Culpepper for the treatment of ailments, such as melancholy, fainting, and fevers. Later in the 19th century, a mixture of gold chloride and sodium chloride was used to treat syphilis. 

In modern history, the use of gold in medicine began with the discovery in 1890 by the German bacteriologist Robert Koch that gold compounds could curb the growth of the bacteria that causes tuberculosis. Gold therapy for tuberculosis was subsequently introduced in the 1920s. The suggestion that the tubercle bacillus was a causative agent for rheumatoid arthritis led to the use of gold therapy for this disease. Gold therapy soon proved to be ineffective for tuberculosis but, after a thirty-year debate, a clinical study sponsored by the Empire Rheumatism Council confirmed the effectiveness of gold compounds against rheumatoid arthritis.  

Since that time gold drugs have also been used to treat a variety of other rheumatic diseases including psoriatic arthritis, a form of arthritis associated with psoriasis, juvenile arthritis, palindromic rheumatism and discoid lupus erythematosus. Encouraging results have also been obtained with gold therapy as a treatment for various inflammatory skin disorders. However, because the number and severity of side effects triggered by gold injections have increased, they’ve largely been abandoned as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory conditions, Medical News Today says. 

Today, gold compounds are being tested and used to detect and treat several types of cancer and fight HIV and malaria.  

Gold and Cancer 

According to Live Science, cancer Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) binds to gold. That appears to happen no matter what type of cancer it is. This discovery led researchers to create a simple, quick test that uses gold nanoparticles to detect the disease. The test tells healthcare professionals whether cancer DNA is present based on the colour of the gold particles. 

Meanwhile, newly engineered gold-based molecules appear to be safer and more effective in combating cancer than prominent platinum-based therapies, according to Medical News Today. A study by the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) University in Melbourne, Australia, found that these molecules slowed the growth of prostate, breast, cervical, melanoma, and colon cancer cells by as much as 46.9%, compared to 29% for platinum-based therapies.  

Gold and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) 

Over the years, scientists have had success using gold nanoparticles to improve the delivery of anti-HIV drugs. In 2013, researchers said gold nanoparticles with molecules called aptamers were shown to reduce the ability of HIV to reproduce and infect new cells. And In 2019, scientists at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center moved closer to improving gene therapy which functioned to inhibit viral replication and prevent the occurrence of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). 

Gold and Malaria 

Gold is one of the weapons in the battle against malaria. Most of the 412 million malaria tests sold in 2018 contained a tiny amount of gold, the World Gold Council says. The tiny amount of gold in each test enables accurate detection of malaria thanks to gold’s stable properties. 

According to The Guardian, gold particles help generate a colour change—a bright red line—that indicates the presence of malaria in a patient’s blood sample. And, the test results can be ready in 15 minutes. 


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