The newest weapon in the fight against cancer: diamonds

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: June 17th, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Forgive the cliché, but diamonds may be a patient’s best friend these days.

Researchers at Northwestern University have found that using miniscule carbon particles called nanodiamonds is a safe and effective method of delivering cancer-fighting drugs.

For their study, the doctors used lab mice to test the use of these tiny particles to fight breast and liver cancer tumors. They treated one group with powerful anticancer drugs bonded to nanodiamonds and the other with just the drug itself.

They found the tumors in the mice treated with the nanodiamonds were significantly reduced. Survival rates were also much higher.

The advantage of the nanodiamonds is the drug sticks to their surfaces and they can be inserted directly into cancerous cells. When they are finished, the tiny particles exit the cell and can be removed from the body altogether.

Nanodiamonds are non-toxic and don’t cause inflammation. They are also cheap to produce in large quantities.

While a nanodiamond is very different from the much larger, sparklier gemstone associated with engagement rings, the two do look similar. Like diamonds, nanodiamonds are angular and multifaceted, almost like soccer balls, which helps drugs bind to their surfaces. But these tiny particles are much smaller than regular diamonds: between two and eight microns thick, about ten-thousand times thinner than a human hair.

Another important bonus: Nanodiamonds release drugs slowly, which is believed to reduce toxicity. This is important because drug resistance is responsible for about ninety percent of treatment failure in malignant cancer.

While the study is promising, don’t expect to see diamonds at your next doctor’s visit. The researchers say it will probably be a few years before the therapy will be available on the market.