According to researchers, diamonds help detect early stage cancer, in a non-toxic, non-invasive way.
This discovery was made by physicists from the University of Sidney, Australia and the results were published on October 9 in the journal Nature Comunications.
A synthetic version of the precious stones was used during magnetic resonance imagining (MRI) and it proved successful in signaling the presence of cancerous tumors.
The study was conducted with a view to explore the beneficial properties of nano-diamonds, which are gems measuring 4-5 nanometers. They can be found within meteorites, but can also be produced artificially.
A previous study published in 2011 in Science Translational Medicine had shown that these miniature stones heighten the effectiveness of drugs delivered during chemotherapy, by reducing the size of tumors.
As researchers from the Northwestern University stated back then, nano-diamonds are extremely safe and tiny, so they won’t cause a defensive reaction from the immune system or from the kidneys.
“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”, explained Professor David Reilly, who led the new research.
Scientists first “hyperpolarized” the nano-diamonds, by aligning atoms inside the gems “so they create a signal detectable by an MRI scanner”.
Then, the tiny stones were attached to cancer-fighting chemicals, and researchers noticed that as these compounds moved through the body, they lit up whenever they encountered cancerous cells.
Fighting cancer with targeted drugs had been done before, but without a biopsy there was no way to see if the treatment had an actual effect.
Now however, his new non-invasive method helped detect tumors that wouldn’t have been noticeable otherwise, and showed how the malignancy was being removed.
As a result, study authors are hopeful that their discovery could assist radiologists in imaging cancerous growths before they pose a threat to the patient’s life.
In the next stage of their trials, they will be testing their newly developed technology on animals, to see if the method stays successful.
Earlier studies conducted in April by researchers at the University of Rhode Island and Brown University had revealed that gold is also effective in fighting cancer, by boosting the effectiveness of radiation treatments.
As the American Cancer Society estimates, approximately 1.6 million people in the U.S. will have been diagnosed with cancer by the end of the year, and more than 500,000 will have died because of this disease.
The promising properties of gemstones and precious metals could one day be applied in order to improve early detection rates and treat the malignancy while it is still curable.
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