Physicists from the University of Sydney are using synthetic nano-diamonds (molecular levels of size) to identify cancer cells during non-invasive magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.
The minute jewels are hyperpolarised, meaning that their individual atoms are aligned so that they create a signal that can be picked up by an MRI scanner.
These hyperpolarised diamonds are then attached to molecules used to target and identify cancer cells where previously such chemical molecules have been difficult to track once administered.
"We knew nano-diamonds were of interest for delivering drugs during chemotherapy because they are largely non-toxic and non-reactive," says research lead Professor David Reilly from the University's School of Physics.
"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 hope is that it will help identify a range of cancer cells, says Professor Reilly, including brain tumours, “opening the way for us to target cancers long before they become life-threatening."