Nanodiamond optically tracked in human cells could aid drug discovery, understanding of cells' inner behavior

May 28, 2011
A quantum nanodiamond, containing a nitrogen-vacancy center, has been tracked inside a living human cell.

Melbourne, Australia--A quantum nanodiamond, containing a nitrogen-vacancy center, has been tracked inside a living human cell. The location and orientation of the optically and nanomagnetometrically detected nanodiamond was tracked to 1° angular precision; its quantum coherence was tracked through periods of more than ten hours at a time. Such precision can be a new path to the development of new drugs, as well as understanding the drugs' interactions at the nanoscale.

The technique, pioneered by physicists at the University of Melbourne, is capable of detecting biological processes at a molecular level, such as the regulation of chemicals in and out of the cell. The paper has been published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

More than one nitrogen-vacancy center could be identified and tracked simultaneously. In addition, the rate of decoherence (as the vacancy loses its quantum state over time) due to processes in the cell could provide interesting new information about the processes inside the cell.

Quantum physicist and PhD student Liam McGuinness said that monitoring the atomic sensor in a living cell was a significant achievement. "Previously, these atomic-level quantum measurements could only be achieved under carefully controlled conditions of a physics lab," he said.

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About the Author

John Wallace | Senior Technical Editor (1998-2022)

John Wallace was with Laser Focus World for nearly 25 years, retiring in late June 2022. He obtained a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and physics at Rutgers University and a master's in optical engineering at the University of Rochester. Before becoming an editor, John worked as an engineer at RCA, Exxon, Eastman Kodak, and GCA Corporation.

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