Diamonds To Detect DNA Defects

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Diamonds have long been used within the scientific community. Now new scientific developments have combined MRI machines and diamonds to develop a nano scale MRI machine to examine individual molecules and strands of DNA.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is widely used in medicine to obtain images of organs and other internal structures in the human body. The images produced can be used to diagnose many conditions from tumours to injuries within a joint. Not only are MRI scans used in hospitals for diagnosis but also for research. They have been used extensively in neurological research including identifying areas of the brain in which epileptic seizures occur and to study the recovery of the brain after strokes. 

An advantage of MRI over other types of diagnostic scans is the fact it does not require damaging radiation but instead works using magnetic and radio waves. It also provides a more detailed picture than other techniques, for example x-ray scanners.

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In this month’s edition of ‘Science’ results from a nano scale MRI have been reported. Nano scale MRI would mean that it could be possible to examine molecules within the body. This would enable doctors to examine damaged DNA strands and identify cancer cells. DNA damage in some cases can lead to diseases like cancer and Parkinson’s. There are currently many research projects looking into DNA damage and repair, nano scale MRI could prove to be a very useful tool in these projects.

In order to develop the nano scale MRI scientists exploited imperfections in diamonds. The point defect of diamond used is called nitrogen-vacancy (NV) centres and it occurs when a carbon atom in the diamond is replaced by a nitrogen atom.  These NV centres pick up the magnetic resonance of nearby atoms, they also illuminate when light is shined at them allowing them to be detected.

Although it may be a while before most of us actually see this technology in use diamond MRI scanners could also be widely used in hospitals in a similar way to a current MRI scanner, but with a resolution 1,000 to 10,000 times better. Creating a monumental weapon in diagnosing and also finding a treatment for diseases which are currently difficult to treat.

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