A new study out of Australia found synthetic versions of the bright gems to be effective at detecting early-stage cancerous tumors through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). With the American Cancer Society’s estimating that 1.6 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer and over 500,000 will die in 2015, the study could prove lifesaving for years to come.
Published in Nature Communications Friday, the study explores diamonds’ ability to light up cancer cells that are generally undetectable. The experiments were performed by a group of physicists from the University of Sydney who focused their study on nano-diamonds, 4-5 nanometer diamonds found inside meteorites.
The tiny gems have been explored in the cancer world before. In 2011, a study in Science Translational Medicine found that attaching them to chemotherapy drugs increased the effectiveness of the drug—effectively, shrinking tumors in mice. The Northwestern University engineers behind the study said there are two key characteristics that make nano-diamonds so useful: size and non-toxicity. This means that both the immune system and kidneys will not try to attack them.