Scientists from Australia and the United States have discovered a new method to safely view the internal workings of a cell and potentially target a region in the body for precise medication delivery by using silk-encased fluorescent nanodiamonds.
Diamonds are solid substances that are comprised of geometrically organized carbons—the basic atoms of life—and thus stable and harmless. The tiny diamonds can be inserted into living cells and, based on the “flaw” in the gem, absorb light and then emit that light in different wavelengths depending on the material in the nanodiamond—a process called fluorescence.
Silk was incorporated as a coating because the edges around the gem are rough and can get snared in the cell membrane. Lipids, organic molecules found in fats and the basis of cell membrane structure, were originally used to counteract the rough edges, but silk was the better choice due to its transparent, flexible, harmless, and biodegradable nature.
When tested on living tissue, the team of researchers found the “glow” from the silk-encased fluorescent nanodiamonds were 2-4 times brighter because of the silk material and was found to be nontoxic and non-inflammatory, after it left no damage in its wake in the body even after it remained implanted for two weeks.
Silk-encased fluorescent nanodiamonds can equip physicians and researchers with a new approach to viewing cellular activity as it reacts to a new drug. They may also carry medications, such as antibiotics, to a targeted region of the body by having the silk-diamond amalgam directly implanted into the infected area and decrease overall body toxicity levels. The silk, in addition, can be arranged to deteriorate at a predetermined rate for timed-release medication delivery.
Because of their “glowing” nature, silk-encased fluorescent nanodiamonds are lighting the way in the fields of bioimaging, biosensing, and drug delivery mechanisms, and the team hopes to incorporate their findings in medical practice soon.