Magazine article The Washington Monthly

Saving Lives

Magazine article The Washington Monthly

Saving Lives

Article excerpt

One of these days, gold may save your life. In ancient times, the glittering metal that never tarnished was believed to bring good fortune, to ward off evil spirits, to help heal the sick. Today, increasingly, it is healing the sick - and saving lives.

The use of gold in modern medicine began around 1890, when the distinguished German bacteriologist Robert Koch discovered that compounds made with gold inhibited growth of the bacillus that caused tuberculosis. His work was honored with the Nobel Prize in Medicine.

Since then, medical uses of gold have expanded greatly. It is used in surgery to patch damaged blood vessels, nerves, bones and membranes. And it is used in the treatment of several forms of cancer. Injection of microscopic gold pellets helps to retard prostate cancer in men. Women with ovarian cancer are treated with colloidal gold. And gold vapor lasers seek out and destroy cancerous cells without harming their healthy neighbors.

Surgeons use gold instruments to clear coronary arteries. Gold-coated lasers give new life to patients with once inoperable heart conditions and tumors. Biochemists use gold to form compounds to create lifesaving drugs.

Gold also has become an important biomedical tool for scientists studying why the piece of gold, scientists can follow its movement through the body. And because it is readily visible under an electron microscope, scientists can now see whether and where a reaction takes place in an individual cell. …

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