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First use of graphene to find cancer cells

By Tim Sandle     Feb 23, 2017 in Science
Much has been written about graphene and its flexible structure and highly conductive properties. Most early applications have been with electronics. Now attention turns to medical use.
The application comes from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Here researchers have managed to interface brain cells onto graphene. Through this they have managed to differentiate a single hyperactive cancerous cell from a normal cell. The point of this laboratory test is to develop a new, noninvasive technique for the early detection of cancer.
The reason why graphene is suited to the task as a cancer sensor is because it is very thin and highly sensitive to any physical presence on its surface. Graphene is a material derived from carbon, where graphite is taken and atom thick layers are sliced away. The resultant structure is a single-layer of carbon atoms linked in a hexagonal chicken-wire pattern. Within the structure each of the atoms share a cloud of electrons moving freely about the surface. The material is light, transparent, strong and very conductive.
When a cell interfaces with graphene this causes charge distribution in graphene to rearrange. This modifies the atomic vibration and this can be detected using an established laboratory method called Raman spectroscopy (a spectroscopic technique used to observe vibrational, rotational, and other low-frequency modes in a system).
The atomic vibration differs depending upon whether the cell is a cancer cell or a normal cell. This happens because the cancer cell’s hyperactivity leads to a higher negative charge, and this causes a higher level of protons to be released. This difference can be detected, helping medical technologists to identify cancerous growth.
Speaking with Controlled Environments magazine, lead researcher Vikas Berry explains: “This graphene system is able to detect the level of activity of an interfaced cell.”
To test out the detector the research group used human brain cells and compared those that were normal with those that were cancerous (the highly malignant brain tumor glioblastoma multiforme). The results are described as “promising.”
The research has been published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.
More about Graphene, Cancer, cancer detection, Medical
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