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Gold, frankincense and myrrh

by Kat Arney | Analysis

21 December 2007

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It may seem unlikely, but the first Christmas gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh have a connection to today’s cutting edge cancer research.Adoration of the Magi by Murillo

For example, Gold holds exciting potential for use in cancer research. Our scientists are investigating the potential of gold nanoparticles for cancer imaging, and in treatments that specifically target cancer cells.

And if you’re into medically useful bling, you could also try platinum, which is a fundamental component of the cancer drugs cisplatin and carboplatin. In fact, Cancer Research UK was heavily involved in the development of both of these drugs.

Frankincense is a plant extract, and we all know that these can be rich sources of biologically active molecules. Some scientists funded by Cancer Research UK are currently involved in chemoprevention research, which aims to identify chemicals in plants that have the potential to prevent cancer.

These can then be tested further in the laboratory and in patients, and could one day prove to have an important role to play in both the prevention and treatment of cancer.

For example, researchers in Leicester are investigating specific compounds in plants that could be purified and turned into cancer-preventing drugs. These include resveratrol, found in red wine, silibinin from milk thistle, and curcumin, usually found in the curry spice turmeric.

Finally, myrrh is a tree extract. Similarly, the molecules that led to taxane drugs for cancer, including Taxol, were isolated from extracts from yew trees. Cancer Research UK is now funding work to find out why some people with ovarian cancer develop resistance to taxane treatment, and who will benefit from the drug.

So even though the Archbishop of Canterbury has cast doubt on whether there really were three wise men, you can be sure that this year Cancer Research UK’s 4,250 wise scientists, doctors and nurses are working hard to beat cancer.

Have a very happy Christmas, and a peaceful New Year.

Kat and the team.