Blinging Tumors: Nano diamonds find Cancer

Tiny nano diamonds might be the next big thing in finding cancer. Five years ago scientists noticed that nano diamonds emited light differently than their much larger cousins. These nano diamonds range in size, some as small as 5 nano meters. For scale, the width of a human hair is about 5,000 nano meters.

Small but mighty.

While microscopic, scientists were able to pick up a blinking light signal from a single nano diamond. That meant they could attach proteins attracted to cancer cells and literally light up tumors.

Nano diamonds lighting up cancer.

Nano diamonds are a perfect drug delivery system because of two things. They are non-toxic – which means it won’t make patients sick. And they are non-reactive – which means they won’t interact with treatment plans.

Doctors have had the ability to target cancer cells with drug therapy for many years. However, seeing the tumors during this targeting has always been a major road block. The proteins that bind to the cancer and try to kill it don’t light up in current medical equipment. So how do we know if the cancer is gone? Usually we have to cut open the patient to take a biopsy, send it to the lab and wait.

With the new nano diamonds scientists will be able to see the treatment working (or not working) as well as the tumor size through MRI. The tiny diamonds emit a large signal in MRI machines when they have been hyperpolarized.

Hyper polarizing tiny diamonds.

The tiny diamonds contain small defects in the carbon lattice. These let the carbons in the diamonds to align their spins, polarizing the nano diamond. There are a few ways to make the polarization even bigger though. You can cool the nano diamonds down, and then apply a big magnetic field. You can also apply a microwave magnetic field (no that is not putting it the microwave for two minutes). Or you could even heat up some water, toss in the diamonds and apply a microwave in a magnetic field. Best of all, you could do all three to get as much hyper polarization as possible.

Let it shine.

We can dip these special tiny diamonds in cancer targeting drugs for treatment. We will even be able to see the tumors, and early stage cancer, in MRI machines!