Imagine a future where we use diamonds to locate cancer cells within the body, allowing doctors to find hidden clusters without the need for lengthy testing or invasive procedures. According to Taiwanese scientists, that future may not be far off.
Scientists are experimenting with the use of nanodiamonds within the human body. These miniscule diamonds, a hundred thousand times smaller than the width of a human hair, can safely coat the digestive tract. By applying a thin coat of sugar proteins or other safe chemicals, those same nanodiamonds will pass through the walls of the intestine and attach themselves to specific types of cells, depending on the coating used. Scientists could isolate cancer cells, white blood cells, or even damaged tissue.
The research is currently being performed on earthworms. After the worms ingest the diamond powder, scientists can run a special yellow light over the worm’s body. The yellow light is absorbed into the diamonds. In return, they emit a purple light, allowing researchers to see where the dust has collected. Diamonds are non-toxic, so they are safe to use in humans. This research will likely lead to the use of diamonds in advanced medical imaging, but their potential is much more far reaching.
Once scientists work out a way to deliver these nanodiamonds to specific areas of the body, they can be used for much more than just imaging. The diamonds can deliver medicines to exact areas of the body, improving treatment options for everything from infections to cancer. They could also be used to track stem-cells. This could, with enough time and research, allow doctors to improve immune responses, regrow damaged nerves, or even regenerate damaged organs. These advances could still be decades off, but they wouldn’t be possible without the use of diamonds.
Not all medical advancements involving diamonds are decades away. Diamonds are now starting to be used in new chemotherapy patches. US researchers developed a patch that is coated with tiny, dust-like diamonds. The patch is placed over the tumor, and the diamonds slowly release the chemotherapy drugs directly into the growth. It is hoped that these new patches will reduce the number and severity of the side effects currently associated with chemotherapy treatment.
Not only do they have the potential to give doctors a new look at the inside of the human body and to help treat cancer patients, micro-diamonds are also being used in microscopes to analyze living human cells in ways not currently possible through regular medical equipment. The diamonds provide better magnifying power than glass alone, letting scientists view individual molecules. The potential for new ways to diagnose and treat certain conditions is huge, once this develops past the testing stage.
Diamonds are also paving the way for improved x-ray technology. Unlike the medical advancements using diamond dust, new x-ray lasers could rely on flawless diamonds, creating a concentrated, high-powered laser that would allow doctors and scientists to see small objects in with much better detail than the current machines allow. Unfortunately, the level of perfection required of these diamonds is nearly impossible to obtain in nature. If the scientific and medical communities decide to take this approach to improving x-ray technology, the diamonds used would most likely be lab-made synthetics.
Ancient civilizations commonly used diamonds for their healing qualities, believing that these precious gems could cure everything from mental distress to breaking up blockages that could be causing the body distress. Science has now come full circle, with diamonds once again being sought out for medicinal purposes. Diamonds could have a significant impact on the next ten to twenty years of medical advances, as scientists continue to research their potential uses in the medical field.