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Exploradio Origins sparks ideas and conversation with its unique and engaging 90 second nutshell approach. Each episode highlights the work of one of the more than 200 fellows at the Institute for the Science of Origins at Case Western Reserve University.

Exploradio Origins: Mining Properties of Gold to Treat Cancer

Case Western Reserve University physicist Giuseppe Strangi.

Gold’s gleam has fascinated humans for millennia. Giuseppe Strangi, professor of physics at Case Western Reserve University, wants to use gold’s special relationship with light in the fight against cancer. It started centuries ago, when people melted gold into stained glass. Strangi describes the unexpected discovery.  

"If you go in France and look at the cathedrals, you see that this color is not coming from any pigment, but is coming from gold, coming from the fact that gold is absorbing light in a way which is extraordinary and very selective." 

Light causes the free electrons at the gold’s surface to vibrate together in something called a plasmon. Strangi and his team can use plasmons to manipulate the interactions between light and gold nano-particles, which is really useful if those particles are stuck to cancer cells.

"We have different strategies here, not using drugs, but using the physical properties of nanoparticles."

Strangi’s team is working on chemical ways to ‘zipcode’ these gold nanoparticles to specific cancer cells. Then, add a little bit of light and voila, cooked cancer: all from gold and its remarkable interactions with light.

"By making these electrons get crazy once they see light, they increase locally the temperature and they will kill the cell, almost instantaneously."

Exploradio Origins is a weekly feature produced in conjunction with the Institute for the Science of Origins at Case Western Reserve University. Tune in to 89.7 WKSU every Thursday afternoon during All Things Considered to listen to Exploradio Origins. You can find each segment posted online after it airs. Explore all the segments here.