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Cancer: Early Stages Now Detected Using Diamonds

First Posted: Oct 09, 2015 01:26 PM EDT

Diamonds are now being used to identify cancerous tumors before they become threatening. The initiative is based on a new study study by physicists from the University of Sydney in Australia becuase the chemical version of the diamond can light up early-stage cancers in non-toxic, non-invasive Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans.  

Nanodiamonds are diamonds whose size is on the scale of 4-5 nanometers. These diamonds can be found inside meteorites and they are produced by impact events, such as explosions. Since they are are non-toxic, they can be used in biomedical and mechanical applications.

"We knew nano diamonds were of interest for delivering drugs during chemotherapy because they are largely non-toxic and non-reactive," Reilly said.

"We thought we could build on these non-toxic properties realizing that diamonds have magnetic characteristics enabling them to act as beacons in MRIs. We effectively turned a pharmaceutical problem into a physics problem," Reilly added.

The researchers decided to focus on hyperpolarizing nano-diamonds, a process of aligning the atoms inside a diamond which creates a signal detectable by an MRI scanner.

"By attaching hyperpolarized diamonds to molecules targeting cancers, the technique can allow tracking of the molecules' movement in the body," said Ewa Rej, the study's lead author.

"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," Reilly said.

In the next step of their research, the team will work with medical researchers to test the new development on animals. 

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