Could Diamonds Be the Key to Early Cancer Detection?

New research suggests that tiny synthetic diamonds could be used to "light up" cancer cells before the disease becomes life-threatening.

Could Diamonds Be the Key to Early Cancer Detection? Photo (cc) by Muffet

Diamonds are far more than a girl’s best friend. A new study found that the sparkly gems can act as a beacon for cancer, helping doctors with early detection of the disease before it becomes life-threatening.

A study by University of Sydney researchers, which was recently published in Nature Communications, found that tiny, synthetic diamonds “light up” early-stage cancers through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, a university press release explains.

Although chemicals have traditionally been used to detect and deliver drug treatments for cancer, it can be difficult to determine whether the chemicals have reached the cancer cells. The researchers were able to “hyperpolarize” the nano-diamonds, or manipulate them in a way that makes the gems light up on an MRI scan.

“By attaching hyperpolarized diamonds to molecules targeting cancers, the technique can allow tracking of the molecules’ movement in the body,” says Ewa Rej, the paper’s lead author.

If cancer is present in the body, the chemicals – with the attached diamonds – will be attracted to it, and the diamonds will light up the cancer area on an MRI, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports.

“Having those chemicals target certain types of cancers, bind to certain types of receptors, is something that’s advanced,” lead researcher and University of Sydney physics professor David Reilly said.

“What we’ve done is now develop that lighthouse to image those things in an MRI, thereby [allowing us to] actually see the cancers light up, without having to open somebody up.”

Reilly told the ABC that the synthetic diamond particles are cheap and readily available.

The researchers plan to work with medical researchers to test the cancer detection capabilities of the nano-diamonds in animals.

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