Graphene to sense cancerous cells

Illustration showing an astrocyte cell taken from a mouse brain draped over graphene. Credit: B. Keisham et al./ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces

Graphene keeps surprising me in terms of its potential applications. It has been proposed as a paint to protect any surface from corrosion, as a way to filter water, as the way to create transistors that would be much more effective than the ones we have today (based on silicon), and many more.

Now I stumbled onto an article proposing graphene as a sensor to detect cancer cells.

Researchers at University of Illinois, Chicago -US-, have discovered that malignant cells of a glioblastoma (a brain cancer) show a tiny electrical difference on their membrane when compared to normal cells. Detecting this difference would be extremely difficult by normal methods. Not so when using graphene as a sensor.

The perturbation caused on the graphene surface by the unbalance in the electric field can be detected through Raman spectroscopy.

This has been experimented "in vitro" and researchers are now moving on experimenting on mouse cancer. Further down the lane are experiments with biopsies taken on human patients.

The possibility to detect the presence of single cancerous cells would be very useful to surgeons trying to remove a tumour in a brain, where the ideal would be to remove all cancer cells and absolutely nothing else.

Once perfected, the utilisation of graphene could be extended to detect bacteria and differentiate among different types of bacteria.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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