People say diamonds are a woman’s best friend, but they may soon be everyone’s. The precious stones have stopped being mere jewelry, as a new Australian study found diamonds are very useful in detecting early-stage cancer.
A group of physicists from the University of Sydney found that artificial diamonds are incredibly effective at spotting early-stage cancer via magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Seeing that the American Cancer Society has estimated 1.6 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer and roughly 500,000 will die by the end of 2015, this discovery might be a lifesaver for years to come.
Published in the journal Nature Communications, the research tests the diamonds’ surprising ability to light up early-stage cancerous cells that usually stay under the radar. The physicists’ team used meteorites nano-diamonds in their study; this is, however, not the first time the nano-gems were found useful in the cancer world.
Back in 2011, a study published in Science Translational Medicine revealed that chemotherapy drugs were more effective in shrinking mice tumors when diamonds were attached them.
According to the Northwestern University engineers conducting the study, there are two reasons why nano-diamonds are so effective: their size doesn’t trigger any harmful response from the immune system and their non-toxicity won’t cause the kidneys to attack them.
This is the study that prompted David Reilly, physics professor at the University of Sydney, to look some more into the diamonds’ benefits. The team built on the previous research by adding the fact that diamonds have magnetic characteristics which transforms them in perfect beacons for the MRI.
By using “hyperpolarization” – a process that aligns the diamond’s atoms in order to create a signal strong enough for the MRI scanner to detect – researchers were able to attach the modified diamonds to cancer-fighting molecules, and track them in the body.
Monitoring their routes provided the team with an extensive map of cancer cells in the body, illustrating the power of quantum physics research in solving real-world problems. Imaging and targeting cancerous tumors with these tiny gems is one way to start treatment before the disease becomes life-threatening.
While this promising research could become a reliable form of detection, another shiny object is starting to become of interest for the scientific community. Gold might have its own unique powers in fighting cancer, as a growing body of studies seems to suggest.
But it’s not so important if we’re using gemstones or precious metals to advance the battle on cancer; it’s important that progress is visible and even if diamonds are forever, maybe cancer doesn’t have to be.
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