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Nano spies in cancer cells

Romana Schirhagl (Rosalind Franklin Fellow, UMCG) and her research group of the Department of Biomedical Engineering are fighting against cancer in a special way: they want to develop a method using nano diamonds to capture the stress inside cancer cells. And thus acquiring knowledge for assessing and improving cancer drugs.

Cancel cells with diamond
Cancel cells with diamond

About the research

Free radicals are harmful substances that are released when a body cell dies, while smoking, malnutrition or under the influence of certain drugs. These substances usually appear when a cell experiences stress. We do not know how that process works. It is difficult to distinguish free radicals or to locate and visualize them. With the new technique of Romana Schirhagl however, we do get a picture of these substances. Her technique is based on very small diamonds that can "feel" the the presence of magnetic fields from these free radicals when they are near. The fluorescence of the nano diamond shows this. These diamonds are so sensitive that they can even detect the small magnetic field of a single electron.

Romana Schirhagl
Romana Schirhagl

Schirhagls dream

“Our dream is to bring the nano diamonds into cancer cells. If we kill the cancer cells with a drug, we can capture an image of the drug with our nano diamonds and the stress it causes to the molecules. This image gives us new insights into how drugs on nanoscale work and how we can design new drugs.

Starting a new research group is the most critical period for a young scientist. During this stage, I must look to establish my reputation within the scientific community. Financial support in this crucial period would help our young research team tremendously. Moreover, support from the general public increases the chances of a future research grant. We already have the basic equipment, we are currently working to improve this equipment and to add new components in oder to a) achieve the required sensitivity, b) determine the locations more accurately in the cell, and c) eliminate the organic background fluorescence. Therefore, we reach out to a wide audience to get the funding for this new e xperimental research."


Trough crowdfunding an amount of € 20,010 was collcted for this research. Your donation is still very welcome. With additional money Schirhagl can further expand her research. To donate, please contact the Ubbo Emmius Fund.

  • Ubbo Emmius Fonds
Last modified:04 July 2023 1.16 p.m.
View this page in: Nederlands