We might soon see diamond acting as a tool for detecting cancer in its earliest stages. A team of physicists at the University of Sydney has come up with a way of lighting up nanoscale, synthetic diamonds inside an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) machine for it to act as a diagnostic tool for cancer.

It’s not possible for diamonds to light inside an MRI machine on their own. Ewa Rej, the study’s lead author, informed that atoms of the nano-diamond are magnetized by the researchers, which allows them to light up inside the MRI machine. Those manipulated diamonds then get attached to certain chemicals known for targeting cancers.

Next, the diamonds get injected into the patient’s body, and pathologists track them as they travel through his or her system.

The researchers said that if there’s cancer in the patient’s body, the site will attract the chemicals, and the diamonds will produce a “lighthouse” in the MRI scan. Prof David Reilly, one of the researchers associated with this study, said that the ability of getting the chemicals target some specific cancer types, and bind to some specific receptors is a quality that only an advanced system can possess.

Prof. Reilly added that what he and his colleagues have done is developing the lighthouse for imaging the information obtained through an MRI scan. This will allow doctors to spot cancers without opening somebody up.

Researchers have plans of using this discovery for detecting tumors that are usually not diagnosed at an early stage i.e. before they become life threatening. Examples of such cancers include pancreatic and brain cancers.

This development has been welcomed by Helen Zorbas, the chief executive of Cancer Australia. In a statement issued regarding this matter, she said that pancreatic and brain cancers are two of the most deadly forms of the disease, so development of a procedure that shows promise to detect these diseases at an early stage is undoubtedly exciting news.  She added that this advancement potentially means that treatments will become more efficient.

The new technology will soon be tested on mice. However, we will have to wait for several more years to see the technology getting used on humans. The researchers noted that these synthetic nanodiamonds would not be expensive like real diamonds.