What good is a diamond so small that you need one of the most powerful microscopes in the world to see it? Scientists are working on ways to use these tiny treasures to deliver drugs more effectively.

Nanodiamonds are much like the diamonds you've seen on expensive jewelry — they are faceted, extremely hard and made up of carbon atoms — but shrunk down to a mind-bogglingly small scale. Whereas a typical sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometers thick, a nanodiamond is just four to six nanometers across. At this minuscule scale, physical properties emerge that make the diamonds very desirable for drug delivery and could help pave the way to personalized medicine, according to a report published in the journal Science Advances.

"Nanodiamond surfaces are faceted, like sharp-edged soccer balls, and the electrostatic properties of these surfaces enable certain therapeutics to bind in a potent fashion," lead study author Dean Ho of the University of California, Los Angeles told Tech Times.

Hanging onto drug molecules is an important job. Tumors, for example, can become resistant to treatment and eject drugs from their cells. Studies have shown that attaching drug molecules to nanodiamonds can prevent tumors from popping them right back out.

Early drugs release can also be problematic, because it can result in drugs being applied in places they shouldn't. By attaching the drug to the "sticky" surface of a nanodiamond, it may be possible to lower a treatment's toxicity. This ability especially comes in handy when crafting personalized combinations of drugs without compromising the patient's safety.

"In terms of personalized medicine, nanodiamonds were used as drug delivery agents during the course of developing optimized drug combinations. We have developed an approach that simultaneously optimizes drug combinations while also harnessing the nanodiamonds to address drug resistant cancers to realize globally optimal treatment conditions of enhanced efficacy and safety," Ho explained.

Putting diamonds in people's bodies may sound like an expensive practice, but nanodiamonds aren't as expensive as they may sound.

"Nanodiamonds are byproducts of conventional mining and refining processes," Ho said. "They can be scaled up into biomedical use for a broad array of applications to benefit patients. They are virtually a form of sustainable nanomedicine."

These techniques are still being tested in laboratory experiments and clinical trials, so it will be some time still before nanodiamonds will be coming to a doctor's office near you. However, if nanodiamonds can save lives, they will be more precious than any of the dazzling rocks over which so many lives have been lost.

Photo: Steve Jurvetson | Flickr

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