Posted in | Nanomedicine | Graphene

Human Immune System Reacts to Graphene Oxide in a Similar Way to Pathogens

A study by researchers at Karolinska Institutet, the University of Manchester and Chalmers University of Technology (featured in CHEM), demonstrates that the immune system handles graphene oxide (GO) in a manner that is similar to pathogens, making way for the use of this two-dimensional material in safer biomedical applications.

Sourav Mukherjee, Beatrice Lazzaretto and Bengt Fadeel, researchers at the Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet. (Image credit: Anna Persson/Karolinska Institutet)

Graphene, the thinnest material known to man, is a million times thinner than a strand of human hair. In turn, GO is an atomically thin material comprising of only oxygen and carbon atoms. GO is presently being considered for a number of uses including drug delivery and various other medical applications. However, it is of extreme importance to comprehend how these materials interact with the body.

In a new study headed by Professor Bengt Fadeel at the Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, it has been demonstrated that neutrophils (the most familiar type of white blood cell that is specialized in combating infections) discharge the so-called neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs) while encountering GO. NETs have been developed from a “spider-web” of DNA decorated with proteins that enable neutrophils to destroy microorganisms such as fungi and bacteria. The researchers discovered that GO causes particular changes in the lipid composition of the cell membrane of neutrophils resulting in the release of NETs. They also succeeded in demonstrating that this process was reversed by antioxidant treatment. In a companion study featured in Nanoscale, it was demonstrated that GO is degraded in NETs, a lot like bacteria and various other pathogens.

Part of the Graphene Flagship Project

Taken together, these studies show that GO can be trapped and degraded in NETs just like pathogens. Understanding how the immune system senses and handles GO paves the way for safer biomedical applications of GO and other graphene-based materials, for instance in the context of drug delivery”, states Professor Bengt Fadeel.

The present study, carried out at Karolinska Institutet in association with Professor Kostas Kostarelos at the National Graphene Institute, University of Manchester, and the National Center of Imaging Mass Spectrometry at Chalmers University of Technology, is part of the EU's biggest research initiative, the Graphene Flagship Project which has more than 150 industrial and academic partners and an overall budget of €1 billion.

The European Commission through the Graphene Flagship Project, and the Swedish Research Council funded the research.

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