Diamonds help track cancer cells

Diamonds, the most expensive gems in the world make for beautiful jewelry. But new research shows that diamonds also help in tracking cancer cells.

Diamonds are an expensive resource. Exploiting this resource mostly in already conflict-torn states doesn’t benefit science or human lives. As such, the research team turned to nano-diamonds, a synthetic, nanoscale type of diamonds that keep the properties of the precious stones, while reducing the costs. Throughout their study they proved how diamonds also help in tracking cancer cells.

The nano-diamonds were used to highlight cancer in early stage with the help of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Nano-diamonds measure in between four and five nanometers in diameter. They are nontoxic and do not react, which reduces the likelihood of patients suffering any side effects. Moreover, nano-diamonds gave the property of carrying drug compounds in the blood stream. This alone makes them the ideal means for targeted drug delivery.

The research was spearheaded by Professor David Reilly with the School of Physics at the University of Sydney, Australia. Seeking to understand how nano-diamonds may be used in tracking and diagnosing cancer in early-stage has been an exciting undertake. In a statement, Professor Reilly explained:

“We thought we could build on these nontoxic properties realizing that diamonds have magnetic characteristics enabling them to act as beacons in MRIs”.

Diamonds or nano-diamonds cannot light up by themselves during an MRI. As such, the nano-diamonds used by the research team were hyperpolarized. Hyperpolarization is a process that allows the nano-diamonds to beam and become visible in an MRI. It involves the alignment of atoms found in a diamond to produce a signal which the MRI scanner may pick on.

As the hyperpolarization process is completed, the nano-diamonds become the vehicles for chemicals that specifically target cancer cells. Cancer cells attract the chemicals carried by the nano-diamonds, which in turn makes them visible on the MRI scan. One of the great advantage of this technique is that cancer cells may be tracked, detected and timely identified.

Ewa Rej, also lead author on the study, explained how hyperpolarized nano-diamonds are a great tool for tracking cancer molecules through the body, adding to the potential of saving lives due to early identification.

“This is a great example of how quantum physics research tackles real-world problems, in this case opening the way for us to image and target cancers long before they become life-threatening.”

The study will now be applied in a laboratory setting on animal models. Further research is needed to understand how efficient hyperpolarized nano-diamonds are with human patients. Nonetheless, the findings of this research, featuring in the Nature Communications journal, underline how diamonds also help in tracking cancer cells.