Nano-technology researchers at Northwestern University have for the first time shown that diamonds can be harnessed to deliver chemotherapy drugs to cancer cells.
Writing about their findings in the journal Nano Letters, the researchers said that the drug delivery system with nanodiamonds would come without the negative effects liked with the current drug delivery agents.
The researchers also said that apart from cancer drugs, the nanodiamonds could also be used for fighting tuberculosis or viral infections.
They have also referred to a series of genetic studies that have confirmed that nanodiamonds do not cause cell inflammation once the drug has been released, and only bare diamonds are left.
By contrast, say the researchers, drug delivery materials that are in use currently can cause inflammation, a serious complication that can predispose a patient to cancer, block the activity of cancer drugs, and even promote tumour growth.
"There are a lot of materials that can deliver drugs well, but we need to look at what happens after drug delivery," said Dean Ho, assistant professor of biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering at Northwestern's McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, who led the research.
"How do cells react to an artificial material left in the body? Nanodiamonds are highly ordered structures, which cells like. If they didn't, cells would become inflamed. From a patient's perspective, this is very important. And that's why clinicians are interested in our work," he added.
The researchers have also found that aggregated clusters of nanodiamonds can work as a shield to prevent normal cells from being killed by chemotherapy drug, and release the drug slowly only after it has reached its cellular target.
"The nanodiamond cluster provides a powerful release in a localized place -- an effective but less toxic delivery method," said co-author Eric Pierstorff, a molecular biologist and post-doctoral fellow in Ho's research group.
It has also been found that the clusters of nanodiamonds can carry nearly five times the amount of drug carried by conventional materials.
The solubility of nanodiamonds in water also gives it the edge over many of the emerging nanoparticles with regard to clinical purposes.
"Five years ago while working in Japan, I first encountered nanodiamonds and saw it was a very soluble material," said materials scientist Houjin Huang, lead author of the paper and also a post-doctoral fellow in Ho's group.
"Nanodiamonds are very special. They are extremely stable, and you can do a lot of chemistry on the surface, to further functionalize them for targeting purposes. In addition to functionality, they also offer safety -- the first priority to consider for clinical purposes. It's very rare to have a nanomaterial that offers both," Huang added.