Scientists have very precise instruments, but measuring properties of tiny little cells is still very difficult. Now researchers at the University of Queensland have developed a new tool to measure heat transfer inside living cells. It includes actual diamonds and it can work as both a heater and a thermometre. Someday it can improve cancer diagnosis.
Cancer cells are different – they behave differently and exhibit different properties. Scientists have long speculated that in some cases precisely targeted thermal therapies could be very effective against cancer. However, in order for this to become reality scientists needed to know thermal conductivity of living cells. With current technology it is literally impossible to measure thermal conductivity – the rate that heat can flow through an object if one side is hot and another is cold – inside of such tiny living things as cells.
Scientists from Australia, Japan and Singapore now employed nanodiamonds (just tiny little diamonds) to act as minute sensors in a new system. Diamonds are great, because they are very hard and because they are just a different form of carbon, which is very well-known to us. Scientists coated their nanodiamonds with a special heat-releasing polymer. This resulted in a sensor, which can act as a heater or a thermometre, depending on what kind of laser light is applied. This sensor allows measuring thermal conductivity in living cells with a resolution of 200 nanometres.
Associate Professor Taras Plakhotnik, lead author of the study, said that this new method already revealed some new interesting information about cells. He said: “We found that the rate of heat diffusion in cells, as measured in our experiments, was several times slower than in pure water, for example.”
If cancer cells and healthy cells exhibit different thermal conductivity, this kind of measurement could become a very precise diagnostic technique. Also, because these particles are not toxic and can be used in living cells, scientists think they could open the door for improving heat-based treatments for cancer. Measuring head conductivity could help monitor biochemical reactions in real time in the cell. But that’s not all. Scientists think that this method could lead to a better understanding of metabolic disorders, such as obesity.
Diamonds are commonly used in science and industry. People oftentimes see them as something from the jewelry world, but they are much more common elsewhere. And they are not even that expensive. Hopefully, this study will result in a new method to research living cells and maybe some novel therapies as well.
Source: University of Queensland