For some time, silver has had something of a folk reputation as a treatment for cancer.
And now, a group of British researchers have concluded that it is in fact just as effective as the leading chemotherapy drug – and may have fewer side-effects.
The University of Leeds team says that certain silver compounds are as toxic to cancer cells as the platinum-based drug Cisplatin, which is widely used to treat a range of cancers.
The big difference, though, is that silver appears to be much less toxic to healthy human cells – and in some cases can be beneficial.
Cisplatin, on the other hand, has a range of common side effects, which include nausea and vomiting, kidney damage and an increased risk of infection.
“As many are unfortunately aware, chemotherapy can be a very gruelling experience for the patient,” says Dr Charlotte Willans. “Finding effective, yet non-toxic drugs is an ongoing problem, but these preliminary results are an important step in solving it.”
The research – still at an early stage – involved exposing breast and colon cancer cells to different silver-based chemicals for six-day periods.
“Our research has looked at the structure which surrounds a central silver atom. This ‘shrubbery’ is what determines how reactive it is and what it will interact with,” says Wiilans.
“Our research has used different types of these ligands to see which is the most effective against cancer cells.”
One big problem with developing these compounds for clinical use is that nobody really understands how they work. Over the next 12 months, research will focus on establishing whether these silver complexes really are less toxic to ordinary human tissue.