Researchers develop graphene-based detection of brain cancer

Graphene’s resume is impressive: It’s 200 times stronger than steel, conducts heat and electricity with the utmost efficiency, and is the thinnest material known to man. The two-dimensional compound is made of a hexagonal lattice of carbon atoms, with applications ranging from solar power to tennis rackets.

Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) have leveraged its thinness to differentiate normal cells from cancerous cells, using the higher metabolic rate of cancer cells. The study, published in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, laid brain cells on graphene and found that cancerous and healthy cells had different vibration energies, detected by Raman spectroscopy.

“The electric field around the cell pushes away electrons in graphene’s electron cloud,” said Vikas Berry, PhD, assistant professor of clinical neurosurgery. The more active a cell is, the more electrons it will push away, allowing UIC researchers to distinguish between cancer and non cancer cells.

“Once a patient has brain tumor surgery, we could use this technique to see if the tumor relapses,” Berry said. “For this, we would need a cell sample we could interface with graphene and look to see if cancer cells are still present.”

However, the technique is still in its infancy; these discoveries were made using cultured brain cells and while promising mouse models are on the way, experiments with human subjects are still somewhat distant.