known for their use in the pharmaceutical and vitamin industry,
researchers are looking into new niche uses for minerals such
helping in the fight against cancer, or prevention against
Alzheimers disease. As surgeons and medical companies
move away from metal to plastic implants, the role of minerals
grows in surgical applications too.
medical industry will unlikely be the main driver behind
mineral production, the importance of minerals in medicine is
undeniable as a niche and developing use for pure, high-grade
| Silicone is used as a coating for
needles to relieve penetration and drag force
carbonate tablets as a medication have been used to treat a
number of mental health issues including depression, mania and
bipolar disorder, working to affect the levels and activity of
certain chemicals in the brain.
indicated that lithium may also be used to prevent
Alzheimers disease, a progressive mental deterioration
occurring in middle or old age, due to generalised degeneration
of the brain.
published in 2007, Lithium and risk for
Alzheimers disease in elderly patients with bipolar
disorder, outlined that the prevalence of Alzheimers
was significantly less in a group of elderly patients with
bipolar disorder on continuous lithium treatment than in a
similar group without lithium therapy.
discussed whether there is a possibility of lithium having a
preventative effect against Alzheimers disease and if it
might potentially prevent the disease through a prophylactic
effect on mood disorders.
the study, the rate of dementia increased by 13% with every
depressive disorder episode, and 6% for those with bipolar
disorder. If lithium reduces the number of episodes, it might
potentially be able to prevent dementia in this way.
lithium also inhibits synthase kinase 3 (GSK-3) alpha and GSK-3
beta in the brain, another potential avenue which may
contribute to the prevention of Alzheimers disease.
Dr E B
Ilgren, consultant scientist and physician formerly of the
University of Oxford, spoke to IM about the
possibility of lithium being used as a preventative treatment
for Alzheimers disease.
He noted that
although some evidence indicates using lithium would be
advantageous, so far no preventative studies have been carried
out specifically for this purpose.
joint paper, Environmental Lithium
Exposure in the North of Chile outlines that: We
still know almost nothing about the effects of lithium on
normal people particularly in terms of brain function,
and the risks of high doses of lithium must still be
issues relevant to the human risk assessment for lithium need
to be addressed; the effects of lithium on reproduction; its
effects on human development; repeated dose toxicity; and
exposure related observations in humans.
outlines that so far any trials to explore effects on
development and reproductive toxicology have only been carried
out on animals, which have no human relevance, while exposure
related observations in humans have been limited, and existing
data is not sufficient for evaluation.
forward then, Ilgren said, is to finish characterising the
population in the north of Chile, which was historically
heavily lithium loaded with no outward signs of lithium
toxicity. These populations were studied forty years ago as
part of a broader study, meaning that the names of participants
and their historical lithium concentrations are available for
need to] examine them for evidence of individual and population
based effects attributable to the long term, low dose
environmental exposure demonstrating manifestations strongly
suggestive of effects that would be due to lithium and its
ability to reduce brain degeneration clinically, radiologically
and pathologically, Ilgren told IM.
characterisation is already underway, and Ilgren hopes that if
enough funding comes through, it can be completed in the next
next step then would be to identify periods of exposure
critical to these attributable effects so one would know when
to start preventative treatment and for how long, he
that if clear evidence can be demonstrated that lithium is
neuroprotective and helps to prevent the development of
Alzheimers disease, it can start being used as a
treatment in the next five to 10 years.
stressed that the treatment is not a certainty and that more
research and trials are certainly needed before this small but
important niche use for high grade lithium can be
Silicone is a
durable synthetic polymer of silicon with carbon and oxygen
that can be in a solid, liquid or gel form. It has numerous
medical uses, such as in antacids, contact lenses, artificial joints, pacemakers
and cosmetic implants. It is also used in polishes and
lubricants, and for less obvious applications like equipment
2012, silicone technology company NuSil published a paper on
the advantages of coating needles with six different coatings
to relieve penetration and drag forces of needles.
compared penetration forces of both coated and uncoated needles
to compare the effectiveness of the companys needle
coating materials in lowering the force needed to penetrate and
pass through a substrate.
needles generally have rough surfaces which cause friction
resulting in a certain level of damage to the skin and causing
discomfort for patients.
shape of needles themselves tri-bevelled, meaning they
have sloping edges, with an elliptical opening and an elongated
tube eases penetration, the metal itself still causes
friction, which according to NuSils paper prevents a
smooth, comfortable puncture.
the companys silica-reinforced pigmented cured silicone
elastomer was found to be the most effective coating in
providing lubrication effects for needles, although coating the
needles used for the study with any of the silica sample
materials resulted in significantly lower drag forces than the
uncoated control needle.
Nuclear protection and
The Tohoku 9.0 magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami that
struck Japan on 11 March 2011 was one of the most devastating
events in the countrys history, claiming over 15,000
lives and causing a nuclear disaster which sparked panic buying
of potassium iodide (KI) tablets.
The Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC) explains that KI tablets are stable iodine in
a medical form, which is needed by the body to make thyroid
hormones, though most KI intake comes from the food we eat.
In the case of a nuclear disaster like that
in Japan, radioactive iodine is potentially released into the
air where it can be breathed in, or it can contaminate the
local food or drink supply through which it can cause internal
contamination if ingested.
Radioactive iodine absorbed by the thyroid
can injure the gland, but taking KI tablets will cause the
gland to absorb stable iodine instead, blocking the gland from
absorbing any more iodine radioactive or otherwise
for around 24 hours.
KI tablets however only work to protect the
thyroid they do not protect the rest of the body and
cannot reverse damage already caused by radioactive iodine.
According to the CDC Guideline for Disinfection and
Sterilization in Healthcare Facilities published in 2008,
Iodine solutions can also be used as an antiseptic before a
procedure, while iodophors, a combination of iodine and
solubilising agent carrier, have been used as both antiseptics
The guideline points to several reports
which have documented that an iodophor demonstrates a faster
bactericidal activity than a full strength iodine solution,
although the reasoning behind this is unclear. The solutions
work by penetrating cell walls of microorganisms quickly,
causing a lethal effect by disrupting protein, nucleic acid
structure and synthesis in a cell, thus killing the
Another use for iodine in medicine is during
certain types of x-rays used to diagnose urinary system
X-ray beams, which produce images of the
bodys internal structure, are absorbed in varying amounts
depending on the density of the material being x-rayed. Bone
for example shows up as white, while air in a persons
lungs would appear black.
During an intravenous urogram (IVU), a
contrast medium is necessary to provide more detail on an x-ray
image. In such cases iodine solution is usually injected into
the veins, which then moves to the bladder and kidney, allowing
for a greater detail on the subsequent x-ray image.
Bone substitution and
Hydroxyapatite (HA), is a naturally
occurring mineral form of calcium and phosphorous with similar
properties to the mineral element in human bones, and it is
because of this similarity that it is often used as a coating
for medical implants.
Biomedical coatings provider APS Materials
Inc. is a provider of HA coatings for medical device coatings
such as hip and knee replacements and dental implants, allowing
for cement-less implants, promoting osseointegration between
the bone and orthopaedic implants.
According to the company, one of the issues
of cemented implants is that they can loosen over time,
potentially generating wear debris, which can trigger an immune
response in the human body as it is recognised as a foreign
Many reports suggest that HA coatings
precipitate faster bone fixation and a reduction of pain and
recovery time for implant patients, says APS.
As time passes, dental and orthopaedic
implants coated with HA show a greater success rate in terms of
the overall function of the implant. HA coatings (...) are
unique in that they are capable of connecting structurally and
functionally with human bone, the company adds.
HA and other calcium mixtures can also be
injected or applied manually for use as bone substitute for
voids or gaps in the skeletal system caused by previous surgery
or trauma, for example in extremities, craniofacial, the spine
Part of the
kaolin family, halloysite is a rare clay which has contributed
to medical research as it has been used to target circulating
tumour cells in the body.
Cancer metastasis is when a tumour spreads to different parts
of the body via circulating tumour cells which are released
into the bloodstream and flow to another part of the body where
they stick to a surface (such as organs). Halloysite could
provide the key to detection and eventual manipulation of these
We have been developing some procedures to try and
isolate and detect tumour cells in the blood stream,
Michael R. King, associate professor of biomedical engineering
at Cornell University, US, told IM.
The detection of circulating cancer cells is difficult given
their tiny proportion in a millilitre of blood in comparison to
millions of white blood cells and billions of red blood cells,
but they can be detected by creating surfaces that mimic the
interior surface of blood cells which cancer cells adhere to in
the body. The adhesion does not come from halloysite but
instead from a group of proteins called selectins.
Halloysites benefit lies in that a layer of it applied to
the created surface basically repels the numerous white blood
cells that accumulate as the bodys immune system
activates. In doing this, it greatly increases the purity of
tumour cells in the sample and as such means that circulating
tumour cells can be targeted with ease.
While this is not strictly a cancer cure, it would prevent the
cancer from metastasising around the body and forming new
As halloysite does not allow the accumulation of white blood
cells it could be used as biomaterial, having the potential of
preventing the immune system from attacking the foreign body
with a wide range of applications in the medical industry,
including in preventing the body attacking implants.
Though some minerals, such as lithium to treat bipolar
disorders and magnesia for an upset stomach, are used as a
treatment, others function as a carrier for medicine in
tablets, pills and syrups.
Talc, calcium carbonate, phosphate and kaolin all appear in
medicines as a carrier or as a coating/lubricant.
Overall, high value minerals
in pharmaceuticals and medical applications are never
going to be the big business drivers for the worlds
largest miners due to their speciality applications and low
However, as new uses are explored and the
medical industry evolves, minerals are being used in
increasingly varied applications, offering for many producers a
significant bonus if the company can provide a high quality