In the hands of Prof. Dean Ho, nanodiamonds become a versatile drug delivery system that can administer treatments with great precision and few side effects.
There’s nothing sparkly about nanodiamonds. Created as byproducts of conventional mining and refining operations, nanodiamonds are shaped like faceted jewels. But the tiny structures are only about four to five nanometers in diameter. (A sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometers thick.)
In the hands of Prof. Dean Ho and his research team, the virtually invisible nanodiamonds become a versatile delivery system to administer proteins for bone growth, eyedrops for glaucoma and tumor-shrinking cancer treatments.
When a patient’s jaw is ravaged by osteonecrosis, doctors know that a protein mixture can help promote bone growth. Currently, however, the bone growth mixture must be delivered using a surgically inserted sponge. Ho’s team discovered that using nanodiamonds to deliver the proteins is potentially more effective. The unique surface of the diamonds allows the proteins to be delivered more slowly, so the affected area can be treated for a longer time. Furthermore, the nanodiamonds can be administered without surgery, delivered instead via an injection or an oral rinse.
Ho, who has a joint appointment in dentistry and bioengineering, has also developed nanodiamond-embedded contact lenses to deliver the eyedrops used in glaucoma treatment. An enzyme found in tears triggers the gradual release of the drops and delivers them, with great precision, to the intended site.
Perhaps the most exciting potential of nanodiamonds is in cancer treatment. In lab experiments, Ho and his team have found that combining several important cancer-fighting components on the nanodiamond surface allows certain breast cancer tumors to be targeted more reliably – and with side effects virtually eliminated.
In addition to Ho’s laboratory and clinical studies, he and one of his collaborators have created a blueprint for nanomedicine. Their report describes the paths that nanotechnology-enabled therapies could take – including possible obstacles – as they progress through studies for safety and effectiveness. Dean Ho’s team is determined to ensure that the new technologies advance swiftly along those pathways.