Graphene found to neutralize cancer cells

Posted Feb 27, 2015 by Stephen Morgan
A team of researchers at the University of Manchester, UK, has successfully targeted and neutralized cancer stem cells with the use of graphene. Scientists now believe this could be used to combat a wide range of cancers.
A breast cancer cell
A breast cancer cell
The results of the study have been extremely positive. Not only does graphene neutralize the cancer cell stems (CSCs), it stops tumors from recurring. Moreover, it is able to neutralize the cancer without damaging healthy cells. What is also very encouraging is that graphene is non-toxic and therefore has very few side effects compared to current treatments like chemotherapy.
The importance of targeting stem cells was explained in Science Daily, by Dr. Michael Lisanti, the Director of the Manchester Centre for Cellular Metabolism within the University's Institute of Cancer Sciences,
"Cancer stem cells.....are responsible for the spread of cancer within the body, which is responsible for 90% of cancer deaths. They also play a crucial role in the recurrence of tumors after treatment. This is because conventional radiation and chemotherapies only kill the 'bulk' cancer cells, but do not generally affect the CSCs."
So what is graphene? Medical News Today describes it as a "nanomaterial made of extremely thin flakes of carbon that are only one atom thick." In the tests, the scientists used a modified version mixed in water, called graphene oxide.
Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News quotes one of the team leaders, Dr Aravind Vijayaraghavan, on how it functions.
“Graphene oxide is stable in water and has shown potential in biomedical applications. It can readily enter or attach to the surface of cells, making it a candidate for targeted drug delivery. In this work, surprisingly, it's the graphene oxide itself that has been shown to be an effective anticancer drug."
"Cancer stem cells differentiate to form a small mass of cells known as a tumor-sphere. We saw that the graphene oxide flakes prevented CSCs [cancer stem cells] from forming these, and instead forced them to differentiate into noncancer stem cells."
The researchers used a number of graphene oxide formulations to test their effect on six different types of cancer; breast, pancreatic, lung, brain, ovarian and prostate. They found that it stopped the development of tumour sphere formation in all of them by impeding processes on cell surfaces.
The success of the experiment shows that the procedure could be successful on many, if not all types of cancers. The team said that it could also be used in conjunction with other treatments to improve the results of medical interventions.
The study says that,
“Mechanistically, we present evidence that GO exerts its striking effects on CSCs by inhibiting several key signal transduction pathways (WNT, Notch and STAT-signaling) and thereby inducing CSC differentiation. Thus, graphene oxide may be an effective non-toxic therapeutic strategy for the eradication of cancer stem cells, via differentiation-based nano-therapy.”
Science Today quotes Dr Federica Sotgia, a co-author of the study, who concluded that the "findings show that graphene oxide could possibly be applied as a lavage or rinse during surgery to clear CSCs or as a drug targeted at CSCs."
Dr. Vijayaraghavan added,
"Naturally, any new discovery such as this needs to undergo extensive study and trials before emerging as a therapeutic. We hope that these exciting results in laboratory cell cultures can translate into an equally effective real-life option for cancer therapy."
The study was published in the journal Oncotarget and advances the groundbreaking work of two Manchester University physicists - Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov — who won the Nobel Prize in Physics for separating graphene from graphite in 2004.