Image Credit: Shutterstock
With exceptional electrical, optical, mechanical and chemical properties, Graphene was deemed a wonder material upon its fabrication in Manchester, UK in 2004. It is comprised solely of carbon, bonded in a hexagonal honeycomb structure in a layer only one atom in thickness.
Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, the researchers behind the discovery from the University of Manchester, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010 and as of 2014, the global market of graphene is reported to have reached $9 billion with the market predicted to expand further to roughly $100 billion due to graphene rapidly replacing silicon in a number of electrical applications.
Aside from electronics, it has been hypothesized that graphene can be utilized in a number of medical applications. This is due to its unique properties; a two-dimensional planar structure, a large surface area, good biocompatibility and good chemical stability.
Graphene in Medicine
There are vast possibilities for graphene in medicine. One of the most critical applications is in cancer treatments. It has been suggested that functionalized nano-sized graphene can be used as a drug carrier for in vitro intracellular delivery of anticancer chemotherapy drugs. So far, nano-graphene with a biocompatible polyethylene glycol (PEG) coating has been used in effective ablation of tumors in mouse models.
In addition to this, a new microfluidic chip based on graphene oxide being developed can arrest tumor cells from blood and support their growth for further analysis. Once completed, this device could be used for cancer diagnosis as well as treatment options that don't require biopsies, avoiding discomfort for patients and the risk of infection after a biopsy. The basic biological mechanisms by which cancer cells metastasize or spread to distant organs could also be studied/determined using this innovative device.
Similar to the microfluidic chip, graphene-based biosensors are also being developed to electrically detect E. coli bacteria. Also, a number of drug molecules can be attached to the surface of graphene and hence it can be used in drug delivery to target diseases that are found on the surface of cells.
Graphene has also been touted as a much more effective material than latex in birth control and the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. University of Manchester researchers are developing a new graphene-latex composite for use in condoms that will be thinner, stronger, safer and more flexible than ever before.
Researchers at Case Western Reserve University, USA are planning to capatilize on graphene's antimicrobial properties for reducing infections in hospitals. It can be used to coat stents and medical devices making them much safer for sugeries. They believe that graphene can decelerate the spread of antibiotic-resistant superbugs.
Neural stem cell (NSC) therapy is being researched to provide a treatment for numerous neurological disorders. However, NSCs require scaffolds to provide micro-environments for their growth and differentiation. Korean researchers have discovered that graphene sheets could support the required growth for them and most recently Chinese researchers have created graphene foam that can act as efficient NSC scaffolds.
Kostas Kosarelos, a nanomedicine researcher at the University of Manchester, believes that nanotechnologies can be used to deliver genetic information to specific regions of the brain for patients suffering from neurodegenerative disorders. Alongside his team, he is planning to work towards uniting graphene and medicine in the coming years.
In the video below, Kostas Kosarelos talks about a lecture he gave in Edinburgh on the emergence of graphene in nanomedicine.
Video sourced from: YouTube - Graphene Flagship
The Future is Within the Thickness of an Atom
Although nanomedicine is still in its infancy, graphene will soon be combined with various nanoparticles to help with disease diagnosis and treatment. The vast funding being injected into this material and the resulting number of research projects related to graphene makes for a promising future.
The University of Manchester are pioneers in graphene research having been the institution credited with its discovery, they continue to invest in research to find new and exciting applications for graphene in a variety of industries. The future will hopefully see more effective, longer lasting preventative and treatment methods with the help of graphene.