Although gold has taken a nosedive in world financial markets in recent months and has lost some of its luster, its value in the fields of medical drugs and industry has never been brighter.

A researcher at Texas A&M University who has examined the precious metal for decades has uncovered new possibilities for gold during his work on the luminescence properties of the substance.

Dr. John Fackler, Distinguished Professor of Chemistry who has conducted research on gold for 25 years, has observed that when placed in an excited state, gold particles can become phosphorescent, and the light produced under such circumstances could be beneficial in medical treatments and in industrial usage.

Fackler's work, recently published in The Chemist, a chemistry research journal, deals with gold properties and gold compounds. He says that although gold drugs to treat rheumatoid arthritis have been around for years, scientists have never known how gold helps some people suffering from the disease. The light-emitting properties of gold compounds could provide answers to that question.

By studying how gold emits luminescent light, Fackler says it may help to learn how the metal becomes an effective arthritis remedy.

"Most arthritis patients are missing certain cell enzymes," Fackler says. "Drugs using gold provide relief. We've learned gold may work by controlling the formation of a substance called peroxy nitrate. The luminescence studies of gold have shown that both of the natural substances that produce the peroxy nitrate poison are controlled by the gold.

Fackler, who has had more than 100 articles published relating to gold chemistry, adds that gold drugs are not for everyone. "They only help about 25 percent of arthritis patients," he confirms. "Usually, about 75 percent of arthritis patients can't take gold drugs because of an allergic reaction or some other medical condition.

"But for the 25 percent who do take the gold drugs, they are heaven sent. For these people, gold drugs are very effective in relieving pain.

"Why gold has been an effective treatment in this disease is really not known" he adds. "The mechanism of gold drugs is something that we still don't understand very well."

Fackler said some countries, such as Australia, have experimented using gold drugs in cancer chemotherapy treatments, but such treatments are currently not available in the United States.

The industrial uses of gold luminescence, Fackler says, are potentially widespread. Besides photographic film where it has been used for many years, it could be used in video cameras that require very low lighting capacities, digital cameras, night vision devices, "just about anything that picks up light and needs to magnify it," he explains.

"It could also be used in sensors that are sensitive to light. It will be possible to detect the presence of harmful gases by new optical techniques. The luminescence capabilities of gold opens up a whole new direction in research with this metal."

Fackler's research is supported by a grant from The Robert A. Welch Foundation.

Randall Keith

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