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Using Nano-Diamonds To Identify Early-Stage Tumours

An Australian team of researchers have found a new way to use diamonds. They showed how nanoscale diamonds can help spot cancers in MRI scans in their early stages of development. The findings are published in Nature Communications.


Physicists from the University of Sydney targeted tumours with synthetic nano-diamonds. One of them, Professor David Reilly, mentions how we can turn to quantum physics to deal with cancers.

“This is a great example of how quantum physics tackles real-world problems— opening the way for us to image and target cancers,” says Reilly.

Identifying cancerous growths in their early stages is critical if one wants to prevent them from becoming life-threatening. Diamonds seem to be precious in this manner: they are non-toxic and are magnetic allowing them to light up the tumours in MRIs.

The scientists paired the nano-diamonds with specialised cancer-locating drugs. This allowed for the exact position where the delivery and/or treatment was taking place to be known, which is otherwise tricky to do with current invasive biopsies.

“We knew nano-diamonds were of interest for delivering drugs during chemotherapy because they are largely non-toxic and non-reactive,” said a researcher from the team, David Reilly. “We thought we could build on these non-toxic properties, realising that diamonds have magnetic characteristics enabling them to act as beacons in MRIs. We effectively turned a pharmaceutical problem into a physics problem.”

“By attaching hyperpolarised diamonds to molecules targeting cancers the technique can allow tracking of the molecules’ movement in the body,” said Ewa Rej, lead author.

The physicists now have to work with medical researchers to test the nano-diamonds on mice to find possible treatment to fight human cancers in early stages.


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