Research Highlights

doi:10.1038/nindia.2017.126 Published online 5 October 2017

Demystifying mythical properties of ancient gold ash

A microscopic image showing gold ash (in yellow) inside the cells.
© Beaudet, D. et al.
A group of researchers from Canada, including some of Indian origin, has attempted to demystify the mythical properties of ancient incinerated gold particles (or swarna bhasma) widely used in Ayurveda. Their physical and chemical characterization of swarma bhasma reveals that the interaction of these particles, despite their large size, with human cells makes them ideal for a wide range of therapeutic applications1.

Bhasmas (or ashes) have been widely used in the 5000-year-old Ayurvedic system of healing, native to the Indian subcontinent. Bhasmas are prepared by treating metals or minerals with herbal juices or decoctions through repeated incineration. Swarna bhasma, also called gold ash, has been used for thousands of years for its therapeutic benefits in many chronic ailments such as, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes mellitus.

“As our group is working for a long time on nanomaterials, especially gold colloids, our curiosity was awoken by the mythic properties of swarma bhasma and we wanted to understand its physical characteristics and chemical composition, by using modern instruments,” says Muthukumaran Packirisamy, corresponding author of the study from the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, Concordia University in Montreal.

Gold nanoparticles are suitable for cancer diagnosis and treatment, and so the researchers explored the way gold ash, the ancient Ayurvedic medicine, interacts with human cancerous and non-cancerous cells, in comparison with chemically synthesized nanoparticles.

Muthukumaran Packirisamy

Using several visualisation techniques, the researchers were “surprised” to find that relatively large size notwithstanding, incinerated gold particles were able to enter the cells and, accumulate in vesicles and in the cytosol. Under some conditions, they were also able to reach the nucleus.  

Their ability to penetrate the nucleus makes them potential drug delivery vehicles, improving chemotherapy of certain drugs and even potentiate the cytotoxicity of anti-cancer drugs, the researchers say. “We found that larger swarma bhasma particles entered cells via micropinocytosis – the invagination of the cell membrane to form a pocket – which then pinches off into the cell to form a vesicle,” Packirisamy says.

Under experimental conditions, the incinerated gold particles were found to be non-toxic to the two cell lines – HeLa or human cells derived from cervical cancer and HFF-1, human foreskin fibroblast cells.

The study shows the potential of nano particles including swarma bhasma in curing many diseases by their controlled entry into cells. The scientists are hoping to actively work with the industry to translate their findings into diagnostic and therapeutic products.


References

1. Beaudet, D. et al. Comparative study on cellular entry of incinerated ancient gold particles (Swarna Bhasma) and chemically synthesized gold particles. Sci. Rep. 7, 10678 (2017) doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-10872-3