Over the past two to three decades, gallium compounds have gained importance in the fields of medicine and electronics. In clinical medicine, radioactive gallium and stable gallium nitrate are used as diagnostic and therapeutic agents in cancer and disorders of calcium and bone metabolism. In addition, gallium compounds have displayed anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive activity in animal models of human disease while more recent studies have shown that gallium compounds may function as antimicrobial agents against certain pathogens. In a totally different realm, the chemical properties of gallium arsenide have led to its use in the semiconductor industry. Gallium compounds, whether used medically or in the electronics field, have toxicities. Patients receiving gallium nitrate for the treatment of various diseases may benefit from such therapy, but knowledge of the therapeutic index of this drug is necessary to avoid clinical toxicities. Animals exposed to gallium arsenide display toxicities in certain organ systems suggesting that environmental risks may exist for individuals exposed to this compound in the workplace. Although the arsenic moiety of gallium arsenide appears to be mainly responsible for its pulmonary toxicity, gallium may contribute to some of the detrimental effects in other organs. The use of older and newer gallium compounds in clinical medicine may be advanced by a better understanding of their mechanisms of action, drug resistance, pharmacology, and side-effects. This review will discuss the medical applications of gallium and its mechanisms of action, the newer gallium compounds and future directions for development, and the toxicities of gallium compounds in current use.
Keywords: Gallium; calcium and bone metabolism; cancer therapeutics; electronics; iron; iron proteins; semi-conductors; toxicities.