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Science and Technology

Saving lives with tiny diamonds

Ambika Bumb
The World Health Organisation expects cancer rates around the world to surge 57 percent over the next 20 years. Nanodiamonds might just be the answer to finding the disease before it spreads

When I was a kid, I loved watching the Magic School Bus. One of my favourite episodes was the one where the bus full of kids shrank down and travelled into the body of a sick pupil.

Perhaps it was the excitement I felt at the idea of becoming so small you could enter someone’s body and find the cause of their disease that planted the seeds for my mission and career.

Finding the source

If only it was as easy as shrinking ourselves down into microscopic travellers to root out the problem. Unfortunately, in 3% of the 13 million cancers diagnosed every year, the origin site of the tumour remains undetected. The inadequacy to detect diseases such as this at the molecular level, as well as the need to better study fundamental biological pathways, were both issues that caught my attention when I was an undergrad student.

The demand for methods of finding disease at the source has led to a $3.5 billion market for OIP, or optical imaging probes. But there are limitations with current technologies such as signal loss, toxicity and high background interference.

This is where Bikanta comes in. We’ve developed a new medical imaging technique that’s pioneering earlier detection of cancerous cells using tiny diamonds.

Diamonds are forever

Nanodiamonds are microscopic diamond dust, or diamond particles that have been crushed to a thousandth the size of a cell. Imagine if you were to divide a strand of hair by 100,000: that’s how small they are.

Fluorescent nanodiamonds give a strong, efficient signal – literally forever. You can think of them as miniature flashlights with infinite battery life. They can be used for background-free optical imaging, which means they allow deeper visualisation into tissue.

These particles can be designed to light up a targeted disease, such as a tumour. Early results are positive: the signal has improved by as much as 100 times over conventional fluorescence imaging techniques.

Nanodiamonds truly are our best friends.

bikanta.com. Read Ambika’s Libertine100 profile here.

Nanodiamonds are diamond particles that have been crushed to a thousandth the size of a cell. Imagine if you were to divide a strand of hair by 100,000: that's how small they are.

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