A group of Australian scientists have developed a method that can detect cancer even before it becomes serious using diamonds. The magnetic characteristics of nano-diamonds could resolve the long-standing problem in cancer detection of tracking the progress of cancer medications in a patient's body.

Researchers at the University of Sydney led by professor David Reilly used nano-diamonds for the study. Through hyperpolarization, they were able to align the atoms inside the diamond to make it detectable in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner. The hyperpolarized diamonds were then attached to cancer-fighting molecules and were tracked by the researchers. The method allowed them to track which part of the body was targeted by the treatment.

"We knew nano diamonds were of interest for delivering drugs during chemotherapy because they are largely non-toxic and non-reactive," Reilly said in a university news release. "We thought we could build on these non-toxic properties realising that diamonds have magnetic characteristics enabling them to act as beacons in MRIs. We effectively turned a pharmaceutical problem into a physics problem."

The team plans to continue its study by applying the technology to animal subjects. If successful, the technology would be useful in targeting cancers that are difficult to detect in their early stages.

"Brain and pancreatic cancers are two of the most deadly cancers, so anything which potentially detects these cancers earlier is obviously very welcome news," Cancer Australia Chief Executive Helen Zorbas told ABC News. She is not part of the study. "It potentially means that treatment can be more effective."

The study was published in the Oct. 12 issue of Nature Communications.