In the 2nd century A.D., throughout the Han dynasty, a Chinese writer and alchemist known as Wei Boyang is considered to have composed a document “Gold is the most valuable thing in all the world because it is immortal and never gets rotten. Alchemists eat it, and they enjoy longevity.” Almost two millennia after, the precious metal might live up to the hype: It Is part of the cutting edge strategy to prolong the life of cancer patients. Though they did not quite capture the details, Wei Boyang along with other ancients who linked the long lasting luster with a healthy body of gold were astonishingly prescient.

The fact it cannot socialize with most compounds and therefore does not corrode, gold’s immortality, makes it basically nontoxic to the body. This feature gives it enormous potential value in the age of nano technology, for routine processes Such as dental fillings and, in medicine, for treating and diagnosing ailments that are fatal.

“There are an enormous number of people using gold nanoparticles,” says Chad Mirkin, a chemist at Northwestern University whose own studies focus on how the particles could help turn off genes that cause disease. “We’re talking hundreds and hundreds of researchers around the world.”

One approach that is astonishing comes out of studies carried out at Rice University in Texas, along with other institutes as well as the MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Oncologists are currently injecting cancer patients with ultra-tiny, gold-wrapped spheres. The nano­particles, each smaller than a red blood cell, accumulate in the  tumour after slipping from the blood stream through small holes in the fast growing vessels of the tumour. Once there, the gold waits, until it smashes by an ocologist with near-infrared light.

Despite the glossy quality of gold, the spheres are made to absorb rather than reflect certain wavelengths of light, a property used against the cancer cells. “We artificially contaminate the tumor,” says Sunil Krishnan of MD Anderson. The nanoparticles convert the light into heat, and as temperatures in the tumour rise Over 104 degrees Fahrenheit, the cancer cells deform, then disintegrate and shrivel.

In experiments in mice, Krishnan is zapping the bits of pancreatic cancer staying following a tumor is removed. But clinical studies in humans, including for cancers of the brain, neck and lungs, are targeting tumours without surgery.

Although gold can be expensive, some potential therapies use as little as 3 percent of the amount in a typical wedding band. Instead, the main obstacle will probably be rigorous safety tests. “One of the tenets of nano is that everything that is miniaturized is different,” says Mirkin. So researchers need to confirm that new gold-based treatments are friendly to the body.

If so, a sly little ditty written by a 17th-century herbalist who also recognized the curative powers of gold may prove true today: “For gold is cordial, And that’s the reason, Your raking misers live so long a season.”