Posted in | News | Nanomaterials | Graphene

Safe Development of Graphene, the 'Wonder' Material

The world's thinnest, strongest, and most flexible material, graphene, could be inhaled under carefully regulated conditions without having any negative short-term consequences on lung or cardiovascular function, according to a study.

Scientist at work in a laboratory

Image Credit: Minerva Studio/

A water-compatible version of thin, ultra-pure graphene oxide was used in the first human-controlled exposure clinical experiment.

To determine if larger dosages of this graphene oxide material or other types of graphene might have a different effect, researchers believe more research is necessary.

The researchers are particularly interested in determining if extended exposure to the material—which is hundreds of times thinner than human hair—would result in any new health hazards.

Targeted Therapeutics

The development of graphene, a material that was originally identified by scientists in 2004 and is being heralded as a “wonder,” has attracted a lot of attention. Applications for electronics, phone displays, clothing, paints, and water filtration are all possible.

Graphene is being extensively researched across the world for use in targeted therapies against cancer and other health diseases, as well as implanted devices and sensors. However, before being used in medicine, all nanomaterials must be examined for potential side effects.

Controlled Exposure

Researchers from the Universities of Edinburgh and Manchester selected fourteen individuals to participate in the trial, which was conducted under carefully controlled exposure and clinical monitoring circumstances.

The volunteers inhaled the material through a face mask for two hours while riding in a specially built mobile exposure chamber brought to Edinburgh by the National Public Health Institute in the Netherlands.

The effects on lung function, blood pressure, blood coagulation, and inflammation in the blood were assessed before and after exposure. A few weeks later, the subjects were invited to return to the clinic for many controlled exposures to varying sizes of graphene oxide or clean air for comparison.

There were no negative impacts on lung function, blood pressure, or any of the other biological parameters examined.

Researchers discovered a minor indication that inhaling the material could change how blood clots, although they emphasize that this effect was extremely small.

The British Heart Foundation and the UKRI EPSRC provided funding for this study.

Nanomaterials such as graphene hold such great promise, but we must ensure they are manufactured in a way that is safe before they can be used more widely in our lives. Being able to explore the safety of this unique material in human volunteers is a huge step forward in our understanding of how graphene could affect the body. With careful design we can safely make the most of nanotechnology.

Dr. Mark Miller, Centre for Cardiovascular Science, University of Edinburgh

Professor Kostas Kostarelos from the University of Manchester and the Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICN2) in Barcelona added, “This is the first-ever controlled study involving healthy people to demonstrate that very pure forms of graphene oxide – of a specific size distribution and surface character – can be further developed in a way that would minimize the risk to human health. It has taken us more than 10 years to develop the knowledge to carry out this research, from a materials and biological science point of view, but also from the clinical capacity to carry out such controlled studies safely by assembling some of the world’s leading experts in this field.

Journal Reference:

Andrews, J. P. M., et. al. (2024) First-in-human controlled inhalation of thin graphene oxide nanosheets to study acute cardiorespiratory responses. Nature Nanotechnology. doi:10.1038/s41565-023-01572-3


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