Biomedical Applications of Gold - A Brief History - World Gold Council

'From its early historical use in ancient cultures, gold is becoming increasingly important in many modern medical treatments, ranging from drugs to precision implants.'


Gold has been used in drugs for treating a range of ailments. Gold plated stents, gold plated implants, and gold colloid techniques have helped medical treatments to be effective.

Traditional Medical Applications of Gold

The claims for the medical benefits of gold date back many of thousands of years. Many ancient cultures, such as those in India and Egypt used gold-based medicinal preparations. Early applications of gold in China were in the treatment of ailments such as smallpox, skin ulcers and measles. In Japan, tradition suggests thin gold-foils placed into tea, sake and food are beneficial to health.

Current Medical Applications of Gold

Apart from the obvious use of gold alloys in dental restorations, there are also a number of direct applications of gold in medical devices. As with dental applications, these are related to the excellent biocompatibility of gold as a material. Applications include wires for pacemakers and gold plated stents used in the treatment of heart disease. Gold-plated stents have been used to help support weak blood vessels. Many surgeons prefer gold-plated stents because these have the best visibility under an X-ray.

Gold also possesses a high degree of resistance to bacterial colonisation and because of this it is the material of choice for implants that are at risk of infection, such as the inner ear. Gold has a long tradition of use in this application and is considered a very valuable metal in microsurgery of the ear.

Gold and gold compounds have also historically been used in drugs for the treatment of a wide range of ailments. This use of gold compounds in medicine is called chrysotherapy. The Frenchman Jacques Forestier reported in 1929 that the use of gold complexes was beneficial in the treatment of arthritis. Later work after the Second World War demonstrated conclusively that gold drugs are effective in treating rheumatoid arthritis patients. Two of the most commonly referred to gold compounds in such treatments are Myocrisin and Auranofin.

Recent Advancements of Gold in Biomedical Applications

In the last few decades the properties of gold compounds have been of interest as potential HIV agents and cancer treatments. Researchers at the National University of Singapore have just patented novel gold complexes for use in pharmaceuticals for the treatment of cancer. Currently, the most widely used treatments for many types of cancers are platinum based drugs, with the major drawback of serious side effects. Associate Professor Leung Pak Hing and his team have discovered that phosphine supported gold complexes have excellent anti-tumour activity and clinical trials are likely to begin in the near future.

Gold colloid is the perfect raw material for rapid testing. A rapid test is an inexpensive, disposable, membrane-based technique that provides visual evidence of the presence of an analyte in a liquid sample. Applications for rapid tests include clinical uses (fertility tests, tumor markers, toxicology, allergies), agricultural uses (food safety, plant and crop diseases) and environmental uses (biological and environmental contamination.)

Finally, it should also be borne in mind that without the reliability that gold provides in electronic components within medical devices such as pacemakers and ventilators, many medical treatments would not be as effective as they are today.

Source:  World Gold Council

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