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Precious metals in medicine: from ancient remedies to cutting-edge research

Commentaries & Views

Believe it or not, various precious metals shimmer in treasure chests and within the very fabric of our healthcare systems. For instance, gold has always been treasured not only for its beauty and value but also for its use in the medical field.

Historical medical texts and archaeological discoveries have evidence proving the diverse use of precious metals, such as gold, in healing — from topical applications to indigestion remedies. In most civilizations, the practice of using gold as medicine was not only because of its medicinal properties but also for its cultural and symbolic significance of this precious metal.

Fast forward to the present, and scientists are still unraveling the secrets of this remarkable element, pushing the boundaries of what we thought was possible.

Gold is a precious metal with high chemical stability, biocompatibility, and low toxicity. These properties are what make it an attractive candidate for medical applications. Recently, scientists have been actively trying to harness the unique properties of gold nanoparticles to revolutionize cancer treatments through the power of targeted drug delivery systems.

Gold nanoparticles offer great precision in delivering therapeutic agents directly to cancer cells without causing any damage to healthy tissues. With this, doctors can treat the cancerous cells with minimal effects on the patient.

Additionally, scientists are trying to develop gold-based compounds as potent anti-inflammatory drugs to treat patients with autoimmune disorders.

And it’s not only gold that has medicinal properties. Other precious metals like platinum and copper are also highly beneficial to the human body.

This article delves into the intriguing historical precedence of using gold in medical practices and explores today's cutting-edge advancements.

Historical Precedence: Gold in Ancient Medicine

Gold has always been used for its medicinal properties. In ancient civilizations, it held a prominent place both in value and in medical practices and remedies.


According to ancient history, China is believed to be the first to incorporate gold into various medicinal preparations. The Chinese people regarded gold as an "immortal substance" and extensively used it for its healing properties.

The first use of gold in medicines can be traced back to the ancient Han Dynasty (206 BCE - 220 CE). During this era, the aristocrats were known to use gold leaf or powder in herbal remedies or medicinal tonics.

People in China believed they could use gold to promote longevity, enhance vitality, and improve overall health and well-being. Some people also used gold as a way to harmonize their body’s energy and revitalize their “Qi,” meaning generally to balance their entire body systems.

The use of gold for its medicinal properties went beyond internal use. Medical practitioners also used gold acupuncture needles for various therapeutic purposes. The fine gold needles were carefully crafted and were believed to have superior conductivity when used on specific acupoints on the body. People believed to have the power to restore balance and promote general healing.


In ancient Greece, the renowned physician Hippocrates, often referred to as the father of modern medicine, also recognized the medicinal value of gold. He documented the use of gold in treating a variety of ailments, including wounds, ulcers, and even tuberculosis. The Greeks believed that gold possessed unique qualities that could restore health and balance to the body.

Gold was also used in ancient Greek medicine for its cosmetic and medicinal properties. Greek physicians would prescribe gold-based formulas for skincare, as it was believed to improve complexion and maintain a youthful appearance.

The ancient Greeks valued gold not only for its aesthetic appeal but also for its therapeutic properties, recognizing its potential to promote healing and well-being.

Roman Empire

During the Roman Empire, gold was highly regarded for its medicinal properties. The physician and philosopher Galen, who made significant contributions to medical theory and practice, advocated for the use of gold in treating various diseases. Galen believed that gold had a rejuvenating effect on the body and could promote longevity.

Gold's significance in ancient cultures extended beyond its physical properties. It held symbolic value as a representation of wealth, power, and divine influence. The use of gold in medicine was often intertwined with religious or spiritual beliefs, reflecting the holistic approach to healing prevalent in those times.

Ancient civilizations employed diverse methods to utilize gold for medicinal purposes. Some practices involved applying gold leaf or powder directly to the skin to treat skin conditions, while others involved ingesting gold-based preparations. These remedies were often combined with other ingredients, such as herbs or minerals, to enhance their effectiveness.

While the precise mechanisms of action were not fully understood in ancient times, the empirical evidence of the positive effects of gold in certain medical applications was undeniable. The use of gold in ancient medicine provides a historical precedent for the enduring fascination with its potential healing properties.

Gold's Unique Properties and Interactions with the Human Body

Gold possesses a remarkable set of properties that make it an intriguing element for medical applications.

One of the key attributes of gold is its exceptional stability. Gold does not corrode or tarnish, unlike other metals, making it highly inert and resistant to degradation. This stability ensures that gold-based compounds remain intact and retain their therapeutic properties over extended periods, allowing for sustained and effective treatment.

Gold's biocompatibility is another critical factor in its medical use. It exhibits a low reactivity towards biological systems, minimizing the risk of adverse reactions or toxicity. This biocompatibility enables gold-based compounds to interact with the body's cells, tissues, and biological fluids without causing significant harm.

The interaction between gold and biological systems is a subject of intense scientific investigation. Researchers have discovered that gold nanoparticles, which are tiny particles ranging from 1 to 100 nanometers in size, have exceptional properties that enable them to interact with cells and tissues in unique ways. Gold nanoparticles can be functionalized or coated with specific molecules, allowing them to bind to target cells or tissues in the body selectively.

The size and shape of gold nanoparticles can be precisely controlled, influencing their behavior and interactions within the human body. Their small size enables them to penetrate biological barriers, such as cell membranes, facilitating targeted delivery of therapeutic agents. This ability to navigate through complex biological systems offers immense potential in various medical applications.

Understanding the intricate mechanisms by which gold interacts with the human body provides valuable insights into the development of novel medical treatments. The exploration of gold's unique properties continues to drive innovative research, offering exciting possibilities for targeted therapies, imaging technologies, and personalized medicine.

Current Research and Innovations in Gold-Based Medicine

Gold holds great importance in the field of modern medicine. Its applications range from facilitating wound healing to aiding in cancer therapies. The distinctive characteristics of gold, particularly when utilized in small amounts, contribute significantly to the progress made in medical imaging and immunotherapy.

Gold Nanoparticles in Medicine

Gold nanoparticles possess a special ability to interact with light, a unique characteristic that allows them to be utilized in various medical applications. This unique property opens up a world of possibilities for their use in diverse medical applications. For instance, scientists can use them to examine the intricate structure of microorganisms and cells by magnifying them under an electron microscope.

Moreover, these nanoparticles have emerged as a promising tool in treating diseases through an innovative approach called photodynamic therapy. In this therapy, the gold nanoparticles infiltrate cancer cells and, when exposed to light, generate heat that effectively targets and destroys tumors. It's truly fascinating how such tiny particles can have such a significant impact on medical advancements.

Engineered porous gold nanodisks show great potential in combating infections by effectively killing bacteria through laser-induced thermal shock. In the future, these nanoparticles could be utilized to coat medical instruments like catheters, allowing localized laser treatments at the patient's bedside.

With the aid of special polymer coatings, these nanodisks can safely penetrate cells, opening doors for the delivery of drugs, vaccines, or genes for treatment. Gold nanoparticles also prove their worth beyond chronic diseases, as they play a crucial role in the swift diagnosis of malaria, offering affordable tests with results available in just 15 minutes. This rapid turnaround time empowers doctors to administer targeted treatment promptly, ensuring timely and effective care.

Gold Nanoparticles in Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment

One of the most promising breakthroughs in gold nanoparticles is in the domain of cancer diagnosis and treatment. Cancer DNA has a unique 3D structure that is attracted to gold, and when this DNA is present, nanoparticles change color. This change can be detected quickly, enabling simple and rapid cancer detection tests. This technology could revolutionize cancer detection, making it possible to detect cancer in as little as 10 minutes.

Researchers at Stevens Institute of Technology and Hackensack Meridian Health have developed a new drug delivery system using gold nanoparticles to deliver drugs to tumors with remarkable precision while dramatically reducing potential systemic side effects.

This system packs and seals drugs into a porous gold nano-framework. The particles are then coated with hyaluronic acid, which keeps the drugs sealed inside until the nanoparticles bind to hyaluronic acid receptors on the surface of a lymphoma tumor. This innovative approach allows for more precise drug delivery and improved clinical outcomes.

Additional Applications and Future Prospects

In addition to the applications mentioned above, the field of gold-based medicine holds even more potential for diverse applications and future prospects. As research continues to unravel the unique properties and interactions of gold with the human body, new avenues of exploration are emerging. Here are some more potential applications:

  • Diagnostic Applications. Gold nanoparticles can be engineered to detect disease markers, enabling sensitive and accurate diagnostic tests for early disease detection and monitoring.
  • Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine. Gold's biocompatibility and electrical conductivity make it suitable for developing bioelectrodes and scaffolds that promote tissue growth and regeneration, potentially revolutionizing regenerative medicine and enabling advanced therapies for tissue repair and organ transplantation.
  • Personalized Medicine. Integrating gold-based therapies with emerging technologies like AI and ML, gene editing, and nanofabrication can usher in an era of personalized medicine, where treatments are tailored to an individual's genetic and physiological characteristics. The use of AI and ML in healthcare in particular has been on the rise for many years thanks to the ability of this technology to identify diseases and for use in medical imaging.
  • Anti-Inflammatory Applications. Research is exploring how gold-based compounds can modulate the immune response, leading to the development of new and safer anti-inflammatory drugs for conditions like arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and asthma.
  • Advancements in Nanotechnology. Collaborations and advancements in nanotechnology, materials science, and biomedical research will continue to drive the field of gold-based medicine forward, unlocking further potential and applications. This will help provide better healthcare for patients, especially those with chronic diseases.

Potential Benefits and Drawbacks of Gold-Based Medicine

Gold-based medicine offers a range of benefits and opportunities for improving healthcare. However, it is important to consider the potential drawbacks and limitations associated with its use.

Advantages of Using Gold in Medical Treatments

  • Targeted Therapies. One of the key advantages of gold-based medicine is the ability to develop targeted therapies. Gold nanoparticles can be functionalized and engineered to selectively deliver drugs to specific cells or tissues in the body. This targeted approach enhances treatment efficacy while minimizing damage to healthy cells, reducing side effects, and improving patient outcomes.
  • Biocompatibility. Gold is known for its biocompatibility, meaning it has a low likelihood of causing adverse reactions or toxicity within the body. This property makes gold-based compounds suitable for medical applications, as they are less likely to induce harmful effects on the patient.
  • Versatility. Gold exhibits unique physical and chemical properties that make it versatile in various medical applications. It can be easily manipulated into different forms, such as nanoparticles or coatings, allowing for a wide range of potential uses in drug delivery, diagnostics, tissue engineering, and other areas of medicine.
  • Diagnostic Capabilities. Gold nanoparticles possess distinct optical properties that make them valuable in diagnostic techniques. By functionalizing gold nanoparticles with specific molecules, they can be used to detect disease markers or biomarkers, enabling highly sensitive and accurate diagnostic tests for early disease detection and monitoring.

Limitations and Challenges Associated With Gold-Based Therapies

  • Cost. Gold is expensive, and the production and functionalization of gold nanoparticles can be costly. This cost factor may limit the widespread accessibility and affordability of gold-based therapies, making it challenging to integrate them into mainstream medical practice. Another challenge would be for patients without insurance who can’t access this kind of treatment unless they have access to personal loans that are large enough to cover the cost of treatment.
  • Scalability. The scalability of gold-based medicine is another consideration. While promising research is being conducted, the large-scale production of gold nanoparticles with consistent quality and properties can present logistical challenges. Overcoming these challenges is necessary for translating research findings into practical clinical applications.
  • Regulatory Considerations. The use of gold-based medicine requires compliance with regulatory standards and approval processes. Ensuring the safety and effectiveness of gold-based therapies through rigorous testing and regulatory oversight is essential but can be a time-consuming and complex process.
  • Limited Understanding. While significant progress has been made in understanding gold's interactions with the human body, there is still much to learn. The mechanisms of action and long-term effects of gold-based compounds are not fully elucidated, and further research is needed to optimize their therapeutic potential and minimize potential risks.
  • Patient Specificity. Personalized medicine aims to tailor treatments to individual patients based on their specific characteristics. This is one reason why medical clinics have increasingly been relying on third-party communication platforms so doctors can connect with medical patients who have specific characteristics directly. While gold-based medicine offers opportunities for targeted therapies, developing personalized treatments requires a deeper understanding of the complex interactions between gold and individual patients' unique biological factors.

Potential Side Effects or Risks

  • Allergic reactions. Some individuals may have allergic reactions to gold-based materials, although such cases are relatively rare.
  • Accumulation in organs. Gold nanoparticles, if not properly cleared from the body, can accumulate in organs over time, raising concerns about potential long-term effects.
  • Impact on the environment. The production and disposal of gold-based materials may have environmental implications, and sustainable practices must be considered.

Implications for the Future of Modern Medicine

The implications for the future of modern medicine are profound and promising. Advancements in various fields, such as nanotechnology and biomedicine, are poised to revolutionize healthcare.

One area of particular interest is the use of gold in medical applications. Researchers are uncovering the remarkable properties of gold nanoparticles, opening up new possibilities for targeted therapies and diagnostic tools.

The potential applications of gold nanoparticles are vast. Scientists envision their use in delivering drugs directly to specific cells or tissues, maximizing efficacy while minimizing side effects. These nanoparticles could also play a pivotal role in precise imaging techniques, enabling enhanced diagnostics and monitoring of diseases. Furthermore, gold nanoparticles hold promise in regenerative medicine, where they can aid in tissue repair and promote healing.

Additionally, the unique properties of gold, such as its biocompatibility and stability, make it an ideal candidate for various medical implants and devices. From drug-eluting stents to biosensors, gold-based technologies offer exciting opportunities to improve patient outcomes.

Looking ahead, we can anticipate the integration of gold nanoparticles and related innovations into everyday medical practices. As research continues and technologies evolve, the future of modern medicine holds the potential to be significantly transformed by the remarkable properties and applications of gold in healthcare.

Other Precious Metals That Are Making Headlines in the Healthcare Industry

In addition to gold, several other precious metals are making headlines in the healthcare industry due to their unique properties and potential applications. These metals, including silver, platinum, and palladium, are being explored for their diverse roles in medical treatments and diagnostics. Here are some of the precious metals that are gaining attention:


  • Wound healing. Silver nanoparticles have shown promise in promoting wound healing and reducing the risk of infections.
  • Diagnostic applications. Silver nanoparticles are also being used in diagnostic assays and imaging techniques, enabling more accurate disease detection.


  • Cancer treatment. Platinum-based compounds, such as cisplatin and carboplatin, are widely used in chemotherapy for various types of cancer. These compounds work by interfering with the DNA of cancer cells, preventing their replication and causing cell death.
  • Drug delivery systems. Platinum nanoparticles are being investigated for their potential as drug delivery systems, allowing for targeted and controlled release of therapeutic agents.


  • Catalysis in drug synthesis. Palladium catalysts play a crucial role in pharmaceutical synthesis, enabling efficient and selective reactions to produce complex drug molecules.
  • Diagnostic imaging. Palladium-based contrast agents are being explored for use in diagnostic imaging techniques, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), to enhance image quality and improve disease visualization.

The use of these precious metals in healthcare is driven by their unique properties, biocompatibility, and potential therapeutic benefits. While gold remains at the forefront of research, these other precious metals are gaining recognition for their applications in various aspects of medicine.

It is important to note that the use of precious metals in healthcare requires extensive research, regulatory scrutiny, and considerations for safety and efficacy. Continued exploration and collaboration between scientists, medical professionals, and regulatory bodies are essential to fully understand and harness the potential of these precious metals in advancing medical treatments, diagnostics, and patient care.


The relationship between precious metals, particularly gold, and medicine is a fascinating and evolving field that spans ancient civilizations to cutting-edge research.

The historical precedence of using gold in medicine provides a rich foundation for exploring its potential in modern healthcare. Current research is pushing the boundaries of innovation, showcasing the unique properties of gold and its applications in targeted drug delivery, diagnostics, and therapeutics.

Looking ahead, gold-based medicine holds the potential to shape the future of modern healthcare. Advancements in personalized medicine, improved treatment outcomes, and refined diagnostics are just a glimpse of what is yet to come. As researchers continue to explore the interactions between precious metals and the human body, we can anticipate further breakthroughs and applications that may revolutionize the field of medicine.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and may not reflect those of Kitco Metals Inc. The author has made every effort to ensure accuracy of information provided; however, neither Kitco Metals Inc. nor the author can guarantee such accuracy. This article is strictly for informational purposes only. It is not a solicitation to make any exchange in commodities, securities or other financial instruments. Kitco Metals Inc. and the author of this article do not accept culpability for losses and/ or damages arising from the use of this publication.