Iron presence in the body is vital to the health of an individual – lack of iron can lead to anemia, while an overabundance of iron may indicate an acute inflammatory response or chronic conditions like hemochromatosis. It is virtually impossible to detect iron itself in the blood stream, and current methods for measuring iron concentration in the body rely on estimates made from the presence of certain biomarkers, making some tests not very accurate. Researchers from Ulm University, Germany believe they have developed a new method of detecting iron concentration in the bloodstream by measuring the presence of ferritin, a protein responsible for the storage and transport of iron. This is done by utilizing imperfect synthetic nanodiamonds, whose imperfections, namely nitrogen-vacancy defect centers, enable the scientists to detect the orientations of electron spins in external fields generated by the magnetic properties of iron ions, and thus, their strength. Furthermore, electrostatic interactions between the nanodiamonds and ferritin enable the absorption of the protein molecules (and the magnetized iron ions within). Finally, theoretical models of the experiment yielded a reference signal with which to compare the experimental results, enabling the scientists to ensure accuracy in their work.
The results of this research suggest that nanodiamond sensors may become a universally accepted tool, for use in the measurement of iron concentration in the blood.