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Minerals used in dermatology part of NIH-Smithsonian exhibit


 

A geologic display currently on exhibit at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda, Md., includes several samples of minerals that can be utilized in dermatology.

The “Minerals in Medicine” exhibit, put on by the Clinical Center in partnership with the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, includes “more than 40 minerals that are crucial to human health and biomedicine,” according to an NIH statement.

Malachite specimen on display at the NIH Clinical Center. NIH Clinical Center, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Malachite specimen on display at the NIH Clinical Center.

One mineral on display is malachite, a popular gemstone that contains copper, which is “a potent antibacterial, antifungal, and antiparasitic agent” used in surgical solutions and as a topical antimicrobial for treating skin infections in humans.

Edward W. Cowen, MD, senior clinician and head of the dermatology consultation service in the National Cancer Institute’s Center for Cancer Research, noted that copper ions have been used for centuries as a disinfecting agent. “In modern medicine, copper-impregnated wound care dressings have been proposed as a mechanism to decrease bacterial colonization with less bacterial resistance than is seen with conventional antibiotic therapy,” he said in an interview.

Sulphur with calcite also is displayed. “Sulfur is found in oral antibiotics used every day, such as penicillin and sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprim, and many topical preparations, ranging from soap to creams to shampoos, where it is effective for the treatment of acne, rosacea, seborrheic dermatitis, and scabies infestation,” Dr. Cowen added. “One common adverse effect of topical medications containing elemental sulfur is the unpleasant smell – sulfur compounds are responsible for the unique fragrance of skunks, among other odors. Interestingly, researchers have found that the exquisite human sensitivity of our olfactory receptors to detect the smell of sulfur is due to another element – copper,” he said.

Specimen of sulphur with calcite. NIH Clinical Center, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Specimen of sulphur with calcite.

The exhibition, which is on an 18-month loan from the National Museum of Natural History, includes specimens that were “hand picked from the museum’s vast collection by NIH physicians in partnership with Smithsonian Institution geologists,” the NIH statement said.

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