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March 09, 2011

Nanodiamonds Make Cancer Drugs Work Better

by Art Chimes

Study shows effectiveness in treating disease in mice

A new technology may make cancer drugs more effective and ease the burden of chemotherapy.

Scientists are combining cancer medicine with tiny particles of carbon called nanodiamonds. These diamonds are nothing like the gems used in jewelry. They're just a few nanometers across. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter.  

"Nanodiamonds are small carbon particles that kind of resemble like an angular soccer ball," says Northwestern University engineering professor Dean Ho, who led the latest study. "And what's interesting about the nanodiamond surfaces is that they like to attract water, for example, as well as other molecules, like drugs."

Ho and his colleagues used this property to bind anti-cancer drugs to nanodiamonds. He says normally the tumor rejects the drug, but not when it’s attached to the nanoparticle.

"We found that when we bound the drugs to the nanodiamonds, the tumors were capable of retaining the drugs for a much longer period of time," Ho says.

In experiments using laboratory mice with liver and breast cancer, they found the drug was more effective and had fewer side effects. The researchers also found they could increase the dosage to a level that would be lethal if given without the nanodiamonds.

"Once we modified this same elevated and toxic dose with nanodiamonds and gave them to the animals, not only did all the animals survive the study, their tumors were actually reduced to their smallest sizes," Ho says.

The study shows the effectiveness of using nanodiamonds to treat cancer in mice, but further studies will be needed before the technology can be used in humans. In the meantime, Ho and his colleagues have been exploring other potential medical uses of nanodiamonds.

"We've also observed in our lab the ability to bind [to the nanodiamonds] other types of drugs. These include therapeutic proteins. One example includes a study where we delivered insulin for wound-healing applications potentially."

And in other lab experiments, they used nanodiamonds to deliver bits of DNA such as might be used in gene therapy. Ho says it was 70 times more efficient than DNA delivered through conventional methods.

By the way, despite the high-priced name, nanodiamonds may not add much to the cost of cancer treatment. They are actually produced from the byproducts of industrial explosions, such as used in mining. "So even though they're referred to as diamonds, we believe that they can be a potentially economical product for modifying the drugs."