Metals in medicine

metals in medicine

Led by Dr Nial Wheate, the cancer research team at the Faculty of Pharmacy is breaking new ground in discovering innovative cancer treatments.

What do wedding rings, car exhausts, electronics and drugs used to treat ovarian and testicular cancer all have in common?
The precious metal: platinum.

When we think of a ‘drug’, we usually think small, organic molecules. However, not all drugs are purely organic based. Metals have been used since ancient times to treat disease and many modern medicines have atoms of metal at their heart.

These include: MRI contrast agents (gadolinium), radiotracers (technetium), anti-inflammatory drugs for arthritis (gold), sunscreens (titanium), anti-infectives and dosage form stabilisers (mercury), photodynamic therapy (tin and lutetium) and chemotherapeutics (platinum).

Platinum drugs are one of the most regularly used family of agents in chemotherapy and include cisplatin, carboplatin and oxaliplatin.

Research into the effectiveness of platinum drugs is being undertaken in the Faculty of Pharmacy using a bench-to-bedside drug development approach. This approach looks at the whole discovery pipeline from drug concept and design, to solid state pharmaceutics, testing and evaluation using in vitro and in vivo models, dosage formulation and drug delivery.
Recent discoveries from our research include:

  • A new group of platinum drugs with reduced protein binding, which means patients will experience less severe side-effects that people associate with chemotherapy such as hair loss, nausea, vomiting, low red blood cells and an increased risk of infection.
  • Actively targeted platinum drugs that can recognise and thus be selectively absorbed by cancerous cells, avoiding damage to healthy cells.
  • Improved dosage forms that deliver platinum drugs directly to the brain through the nasal cavity.

The outcomes of this research have the potential to make chemotherapy more effective, and more importantly, improve the quality of life of patients whilst they undergo treatment.

Project leader: Dr Nial Wheate is a pharmaceutical chemist who has recently started in the Faculty of Pharmacy after spending the last five years in Glasgow, Scotland undertaking pharmacy research and teaching.

Dr Nial Wheate
T +61 2 9036 7647