Graphene Medtech: The Next Frontier

It has been 20 years since Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov first isolated graphene: the two dimensional wonder material. Since then, a huge number of applications for graphene have been discovered spanning a wide range of different industries.

However, one sector which is notoriously difficult to break into is medical technology. New medical products intended for putting into the human body must overcome rigorous regulatory hurdles and lengthy clinical trials before they can be sold on the mass-market.

Effects of graphene on pulmonary and cardiovascular function

A recently published research paper from scientists at the Universities of Manchester and Edinburgh could help propel graphene into the Medtech space. This study represents the first time that graphene oxide (the biggest selling form of graphene) has been used in human clinical trials.

In this paper, scientists investigated the effects that inhaling nanosheets of graphene oxide had on patients’ pulmonary and cardiovascular functions. Excitingly, the scientists reported that graphene oxide did not cause any clinically adverse effects on lung function, blood pressure and most other health indicators measured. Only a marginal increase in the level of blood clotting was observed, which the authors have made clear was within healthy limits.

The results of this study will be welcome news to companies such as Hydrograph Clean Power and Hawkeye Bio. Hydrograph’s fractal graphene “FGA-1” has been successfully trialled in biomedical sensors for the early detection of lung cancer by the Medtech innovator Hawkeye Bio. By utilising the extraordinary conductivity of graphene, Hawkeye Bio’s nano-scale biosensor outperforms traditional PCR and next-generation sequencing tests for measuring the activity levels of enzymes in blood serum.

Graphene use for neural disorders

InBrain Neuroelectronics are another innovator in the graphene Medtech space and whose founders include scientists that contributed to the graphene oxide human trials study. InBrain have developed an implantable graphene-based processor for treating neural disorders such as Parkinson’s disease. Developing neural therapies is challenging because of the complexity and sensitiveness of the brain. However, InBrain have exploited the low electrical impedance of graphene to develop a product with a high charge injection capacity at low power requirements, which reduces patient discomfort and other adverse effects.

The potential uses of graphene in Medtech are not limited to medical devices and also include therapies themselves. Recently, a study led by a research group from the Hefei Institutes of Physical Science showed that graphene quantum dots could be used to treat cancer. In this work, these “zero-dimensional” forms of graphene were used in a chemodynamic therapy to selectively and effectively target tumours. The authors point out that graphene quantum dots are particularly advantageous because they do not have the same toxicity problems that some metal-based quantum dots do.

What next for Graphene and Medtech?

The evidence is mounting that graphene can be a valuable material for next-generation medical devices and therapies. It is exciting to see that clinical trials are progressing successfully and that we could soon see graphene-based medical technologies launched onto the mass market. While it may be challenging to break into the Medtech industry, the potential benefits that graphene could have in healthcare are undoubtably profound. With applications of graphene already becoming widespread, it will be exciting to see if Medtech is the next frontier that graphene breaks through.