Diamonds May Help Doctors Diagnose Cancer Earlier

Diamonds May Help Doctors Diagnose Cancer Earlier
The diamonds can be attached to either diagnostic or pharmaceutical treatments for cancer, allowing doctors to track the location of either in the body. Photo by Ewa Rej/University of Sydney

SYDNEY, Oct. 11 (Stephen Feller) — Nanoscale synthetic diamonds can help doctors detect early-stage cancer in patients using MRI scans, researchers found in lab experiments.

Researchers have used chemicals to detect cancer, as well as deliver drug treatments for the disease, however they often have trouble determining whether the chemicals have reached cancer cells. The diamonds, they said, “light up” cancer found in the body.

“We knew nano diamonds were of interest for delivering drugs during chemotherapy because they are largely non-toxic and non-reactive,” said Dr. David Reilly, a professor at the University of Sydney, in a press release. “We thought we could build on these non-toxic properties realising that diamonds have magnetic characteristics enabling them to act as beacons in MRIs. We effectively turned a pharmaceutical problem into a physics problem.”

The researchers hyperpolarized diamonds, which aligns their atoms and creates a signal detectable by MRI scan. These diamonds then allow for tracking of molecules used either for diagnosis or treatment of patients.

“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,” says Professor Reilly.

The study is published in Nature: Communications.


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