Physicists from the University of Sydney in Australia have devised a way to use diamonds to identify cancerous tumors before they become life threatening. Their findings, published online on October 9, 2015 in an open-access article in Nature Communications, reveal how a nanoscale, synthetic version of the precious gem can light up early-stage cancers in non-toxic, non-invasive Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans. The article is titled “Hyperpolarized Nanodiamond with Long Spin Relaxation Times.” Targeting cancers with tailored chemicals is not new, but scientists struggle to detect where these chemicals go because, short of a biopsy, there are few ways to see if a treatment has been taken-up by a cancer. Led by Professor David Reilly from the School of Physics, researchers from the University of Sydney investigated how nanoscale diamonds could help identify cancers in their earliest stages. "We knew nano diamonds were of interest for delivering drugs during chemotherapy because they are largely non-toxic and non-reactive," says Professor Reilly. "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." Professor Reilly's team turned its attention to hyperpolarizing nano-diamonds, a process of aligning atoms inside a diamond so they create 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," says Ewa Rej, Ph.D., the paper's lead author.
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