Scientists have found that diamonds on a much smaller scale than those used in jewelry could be used to promote bone growth and the durability of dental implants.
Nanodiamonds, which are created as byproducts of conventional mining and refining operations, are approximately four to five nanometres in diameter and are shaped like tiny soccer balls.
Scientists from the University of California - Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Dentistry, the UCLA Department of Bioengineering and Northwestern University, along with collaborators at the NanoCarbon Research Institute in Japan, have found a way to use them to improve bone growth and combat osteonecrosis, a potentially debilitating disease in which bones break down due to reduced blood flow.
During bone repair operations, which are typically costly and time-consuming, doctors insert a sponge through invasive surgery to locally administer proteins that promote bone growth, such as bone morphogenic protein.
The study, led by Dr Dean Ho from UCLA, discovered that using nanodiamonds to deliver these proteins has the potential to be more effective than the conventional approaches.
The study found that nanodiamonds, which are invisible to the human eye, bind rapidly to both bone morphogenetic protein and fibroblast growth factor, demonstrating that the proteins can be simultaneously delivered using one vehicle.
The unique surface of the diamonds allows the proteins to be delivered more slowly, which may allow the affected area to be treated for a longer period of time.
Moreover, the nanodiamonds can be administered non-invasively, such as by an injection or an oral rinse.
"We've conducted several comprehensive studies, in both cells and animal models, looking at the safety of the nanodiamond particles," said Laura Moore, the first author of the study at Northwestern University.
"Initial studies indicate that they are well tolerated, which further increases their potential in dental and bone repair applications," Moore said.
"Nanodiamonds are versatile platforms. Because they are useful for delivering such a broad range of therapies, nanodiamonds have the potential to impact several other facets of oral, maxillofacial and orthopedic surgery, as well as regenerative medicine," Ho said.
The study was published in the Journal of Dental Research.