The ‘bling’ factor is not only about visual enticement for the rich few, it can apparently also have some advanced medical scientific applications. Previously, we had harped about gold nanoparticles, and how they can be useful for detecting breast cancer. Well, this time around, researchers at the Cardiff University in Wales, have ingeniously developed a brand new method for visualizing cellular processes and their subsequent precise measurements, with the help of nanodiamonds. In essence, the technology can be further enhanced for effective delivery of drugs inside our body, including therapeutics for ailments like cancer.
In a conventional scope, scientists generally use organic fluorophores for the imaging of the cells. The method however does have some disadvantages, given the tendency of the fluorophores to deteriorate over time under the illumination of light – which makes the accurate measuring of cells difficult after a short period. Furthermore, the toxic chemical action resulting from the degradation can severely affect and even kill the cells under inspection.
On the other hand, the nanodiamonds were found to be more effective alternatives, since these tiny inorganic pieces are not only structurally and chemically stable but they are also adaptable in sync with human cells. However, in spite of the seemingly straightforward solution, there was a major predicament to this proposal, and it pertained to the transparency of diamonds under light. As a result, the process required the tiny pieces to have defects which could potentially fluoresce under illumination.
Suffice it to say, the procedure became more complex and costly, while the imaging ambit also tended to be imprecise and unstable. Fortunately, this time around, the Cardiff University scientists have successfully demonstrated the stable and efficient usage of ‘flawless’ diamonds – with the visualization achieved with the aid of the illuminating light and its interaction with the vibrating chemical bonds within the latticed structure of the diamond. The vibrations in turn led to the conspicuous scattering of light in a completely different color.
As for the working scope of the new process, the researchers used two laser beams (with specific frequencies) which triggered the chemical bonds inside the diamond to vibrate in synchronization. One of these beams is then projected onto the vibration, thus resulting in the creation of a light called ‘coherent anti-Stokes Raman scattering’ or CARS. The intensity of this resultant CARS was further studied with a special microscope and other magnifying equipment, which ultimately helped in measuring the diamond nanoparticles’ sizes and their relation to the magnitude of the scattering light.
The last step fortuitously allowed the researchers to assess and analyse the number of diamond nanoparticles being released into the living cells. And, this was claimed to be done with deft accuracy which was not possible in earlier methods of cell visualization. From the perspective of medical science, such degrees of preciseness can lead to much improved gauging of complex cellular activities and paths, thus making the scope apt for drug insertion and delivery. This is what Professor Paola Borri from the School of Biosciences, who headed the project, had to say about the potential applications –
This new imaging modality opens the exciting prospect of following complex cellular trafficking pathways quantitatively with important applications in drug delivery. The next step for us will be to push the technique to detect nanodiamonds of even smaller sizes than what we have shown so far and to demonstrate a specific application in drug delivery.