Microscopic crystals with special magnetic properties (super magnets) are usually so small that scientists could never control their movement. If only this is worked on, they could enable zipping drugs around the body which takes them to diseased organs.
This is what researchers from the Quingdou University of Science and Technology in Quingdou, China have developed. They have successfully found a solution to make microscopic crystals work around the body through mobilizing its magnets.
Some magnetic materials, like iron oxides, are too small. They could be a few millionths of a millimeter across, smaller than most viruses. This property is paired workability: their magnetization randomly flips as the temperature changes.
What Chinese researchers Kezheng Chen and Ji Ma did is apply a magnetic field to the crystals, which gives them almost the same magnetic ability with that of ordinary fridge magnets. This is said to be the strongest type of magnetism known, which is called superparamagnetism.
By principle, this type of magnetism when used for drug delivery, however, is hard to control. The superparamagnetic particles are too small that they are difficult to guide precisely. This problem was eliminated by the Chinese researchers.
Dr. Chen explains, “The largest superparamagnetic materials that we have been able to make before now were clusters of nanocrystals that were together about a thousand times smaller than these.
“These larger crystals are easier to control using external magnetic fields, and they will not aggregate when those fields are removed, which will make them much more useful in practical applications, including drug delivery,” he added.
Both researchers said that the high temperature and pressure under which the crystals form made tiny meteorite-like ‘micro-particles’ of magnetite escape from their surface. Because of this, pock-marked appearance can be noticed on the crystal surfaces.
Moreover, this method induced a high degree of stress and strain into the lattice of the growing crystals, causing irregularities. Such defects allowed the unusual magnetic properties of the crystals.
In comparison, magnetite crystals of the same size which are grown in lower temperatures and normal pressures have lower magnetism.
Controlling crystals for drug delivery around the body are now much easier after making them to be larger superparamagnetic crystals. It opens doors for the development of superparamagnetic bulk materials to roam around the body, which can be mobilized by moderate external magnetic forces. This could ultimately change the way we deliver drugs to tumors and other body parts which are hard to reach.
These tiny super magnets with special magnetic properties, which movements are thought to be impossible to control, could now easily be the future of drug delivery.
Howover, drug delivery is only one application of this technology. It could be used in other engineering projects which require “smart fluids” which change properties under a magnetic field force. The superparamagnetic crystals can also be used in prosthetic limbs for them to be more realistic, or vehicle suspension systems which automatically adjust as road conditions change.
Methods of producing these superparamagnetic crystals are published in their research entitled “Discovery of superparamagnetism in sub-millimeter-sized magnetite porous single crystals” which can be found in Physics Letters A.
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