Researchers have devised a way for synthetic diamonds to act as a beacon for cancer. (Juda Ngwenya, file photo: Reuters)
Diamonds could play a vital role in helping to detect cancers in their earliest stages, new research shows.
Physicists from the University of Sydney have devised a way to make nanoscale, synthetic diamonds light up inside a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine and act as a beacon for cancer.
Diamonds on their own do not light up in an MRI scan, but after some manipulation they are able to be detected.
“We’ve magnetised the atoms within the nano-diamond and this makes them light up on an MRI scan,” lead author Ewa Raj said.
The manipulated diamonds are then attached to specific chemicals that are known to target cancers.
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.
The diamonds are injected into the body and tracked as they move through the patient’s system.
If cancer is present, the chemicals will be attracted to the site and the attached diamonds will provide a “lighthouse” on the MRI scan.
“Having those chemicals target certain types of cancers, bind to certain types of receptors, is something that’s advanced,” lead researcher 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.”
Diamonds could help detect pancreatic, brain cancer
Researchers want to use their discovery to target cancers that are hard to detect in their early stage, such as brain and pancreatic cancers, before they are life threatening.
Cancer Australia chief executive Helen Zorbas welcomed the development.
“Brain and pancreatic cancers are two of the most deadly cancers, so anything which potentially detects these cancers earlier is obviously very welcome news,” she said.
“It potentially means that treatment can be more effective.”
In the coming weeks, the researchers will start to test the new technology on mice.
But it will take several more years before it can be used on humans.
Although using diamonds may seem expensive, researchers said the synthetic particles are relatively cheap.
“They’re very cheap and readily available,” Professor Reilly said.
“That’s great news because we wouldn’t want to build some medical treatment around a technology that you had to dig up out of the earth.”
The researchers next want to use the same technology using scorpion venom to target brain tumours with MRI scanning.