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Diamonds could reveal the secrets of cancer cells

16 June 2015
Cancer cells with diamonds

Romana Schirhagl, a researcher at the University Medical Center Groningen, is hoping to garner public support for a new form of cancer research. Schirhagl wants to introduce miniscule diamonds into living cancer cells. Like spies, these nanodiamonds will be on a mission to reveal the secrets of the cell. Schirhagl applies a unique combination of knowledge and techniques from physics, chemistry and medicine in the research. This could form the basis of new and improved cancer drugs.

The research of Schirhagl and her research group in the department of Biomedical Engineering focuses on the behaviour of free radicals in a cell. These radicals have an important role in the body. They are sometimes extremely useful, as in the immune system, where they help fight bacteria and viruses, but sometimes very harmful, as when they actually harm healthy cells and can cause cancer. As the radicals only exist for a fraction of a second, it is difficult to tell them apart and study them.

New technique

Schirhagl wants to apply a new technique that currently is mainly used in fundamental physics but looks extremely promising for biomedical research. The technique is based on very small diamonds that can ‘sense’ the presence of magnetic fields from the radicals. The nanodiamonds are fluorescent and change in luminosity as a response to their environment. This makes it easier to determine which radicals occur when and how they work. This information should make it possible to improve cancer drugs – which themselves sometimes use free radicals – or even develop new ones.

Anyone can help

Schirhagl and her team are hoping to use crowdfunding to raise funds for the research. The nanodiamonds themselves are very cheap, but the current research budget will not cover the purchase of special, adapted microscopes. Her initial aim is to raise € 20,000. Those wishing to help can do so on the website .

More information

Contact: Bert Wolfkamp, Project Coordinator, Ubbo Emmius Fund, tel.: 050 363 5456, e-mail:

You can find more information about the research and the crowdfunding project at .

Contact person for the research: Simon Hemelaar

Last modified:20 March 2020 10.44 a.m.
View this page in: Nederlands

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