Graphene Takes Aim at Treating Alzheimer’s and Cancer

If graphene can’t find a home in electronics, disease diagnostics and treatment are beckoning

2 min read
Graphene Takes Aim at Treating Alzheimer’s and Cancer

When graphene was first introduced, it seemed everyone wanted to apply it to electronics, especially after carbon nanotubes were turning into such a disappointment in the field.  But graphene has a huge strike against it in electronics: it lacks a band gap. So everyone, including major electronics players like IBM and Samsung, looked for ways to give graphene a band gap.

While researchers were hard at work wrestling graphene into a role it didn’t seem to want to play, others were looking at what it might like to do. This led to work that looked at using graphene for applications ranging from rustproofing to photovoltaics.

Now the biomedical field is increasingly looking at graphene as a material for advancing therapeutics and diagnostics where its capabilities might be ideally suited. An article in the journal Advanced Materials ("New Horizons for Diagnostics and Therapeutic Applications of Graphene and Graphene Oxide") outlines some of the ways that graphene and its oxide are promising improved diagnostics and therapeutics for maladies ranging from Alzheimer’s to cancer.

Of course, some of the applications for graphene in the biomedical field are within areas that are at least tangential to those already mentioned, like electronic devices and transparent conductors. But graphene is also being looked at for drug and gene delivery applicationsphoto-therapy of cancer  and biosensors. In particular, researchers have been experimenting with combining graphene with near-Infrared (NIR) phototherapy and imaging.  There has been some progress in using graphene-enabled NIR photothermal therapy for cancer and Alzheimer's disease (AD).

While both pure graphene and graphene oxide have exhibited some toxicity to cell and animals, it has been found that coating the graphene with a biocompatible polymer results in no detectable toxicity in both cellular and animal testing.

Graphene’s application to this field is still in its infancy, however, early testing has shown promise that it could play an important role in future disease diagnostics and treatment.

Image:  Luis E. F. Foa Torres

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This Implant Turns Brain Waves Into Words

A brain-computer interface deciphers commands intended for the vocal tract

10 min read
A man using an interface, looking at a screen with words on it.

A paralyzed man who hasn’t spoken in 15 years uses a brain-computer interface that decodes his intended speech, one word at a time.

University of California, San Francisco

A computer screen shows the question “Would you like some water?” Underneath, three dots blink, followed by words that appear, one at a time: “No I am not thirsty.”

It was brain activity that made those words materialize—the brain of a man who has not spoken for more than 15 years, ever since a stroke damaged the connection between his brain and the rest of his body, leaving him mostly paralyzed. He has used many other technologies to communicate; most recently, he used a pointer attached to his baseball cap to tap out words on a touchscreen, a method that was effective but slow. He volunteered for my research group’s clinical trial at the University of California, San Francisco in hopes of pioneering a faster method. So far, he has used the brain-to-text system only during research sessions, but he wants to help develop the technology into something that people like himself could use in their everyday lives.

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