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Gold’s Growing Role in Healthcare

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A couple of years ago, CNBC commentator Jim Leventhal made a pretty astounding comment. When asked about gold, Leventhal said he had no interest in it because gold has no uses as a metal.

Of course, this is nonsense. Gold has a wide range of uses in sectors ranging from jewelry to high-tech electronics. And gold is becoming increasingly important in the healthcare industry.

As World Gold Council consultant Trevor Keel noted, gold is used in a large number of diagnostic tools and is of increasing interest to companies developing innovative new ways to treat disease.

These applications often go unnoticed, but are an important part of gold’s story.”

For instance, gold has been on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19. There are now hundreds of gold-based tests being developed for use worldwide to help in the fight against the virus. In fact, if you have taken a COVID test utilizing lateral flow assays (LFAs) at any point over the last year, it likely contained gold.

Testing for many other diseases relies on similar technology, including the millions of malaria tests produced annually. For instance, researchers at the University of Queensland have even developed a universal cancer test that just takes 10 minutes and requires nothing more than a mobile phone.

Gold is also used in some medications.

In the 1980s, SmithKline & French developed Auranofin, a gold-based drug to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Although other drugs have since superseded it, there is significant interest in using it to treat other conditions. A review published in 2015 said “…there is potential for new applications in the treatment of some cancers, parasitic infections, bacterial infections, HIV and even neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s”

Gold also plays a role in nanotechnology, a growing field that uses small gold particles to target specific parts of the body. Keel called this “a holy grail of medicine.”

Many companies have recognized the potential of gold nanoparticles (GNPs) in medicine. They are stable, easily modified and functionalized and, critically, safe to administer into humans. Several start-ups are pursuing different paths to incorporate gold nanoparticles into their therapeutics, sometimes to deliver drugs directly into tumors, or use the gold particles themselves to heat and destroy cancerous cells.”

Gold nanoparticles are also playing a role in the development of novel vaccines. The tiny particles of gold can serve as a carrier system for the vaccine itself.

Some uses for gold in medicine sound like something right out of a science fiction film.  A team of Chinese researchers announced they were able to partially restored the sight of blind mice by replacing their deteriorated photoreceptors – sensory structures inside the eye that respond to light – with nano-wires made of gold and titanium.

Ultimately, gold is money, but it serves many other useful purposes and that’s part of what gives it enduring value.

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