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Nanotech "wonder material" that will change the world passes human safety tests

In an era where technological advancements are rapidly transforming lives, scientists have made a significant stride in nanotechnology, focusing on graphene — a material renowned for its exceptional properties and vast potential in various applications.

This revolutionary nanomaterial, celebrated for being the thinnest, strongest, and most flexible material known, is now being developed with a keen eye on human health safety.

Graphene’s promise: The dawn of a new era

Recent research reveals that controlled inhalation of a specific form of graphene, known as graphene oxide, does not present short-term health risks to lung or cardiovascular functions.

This finding comes from the first-ever controlled exposure clinical trial involving human participants, emphasizing the material’s safety under specific conditions.

Graphene oxide, a water-compatible form of graphene, was used in this pioneering study to ensure ultra-purity and compatibility for potential medical applications.

The study, a collaborative effort by researchers from the Universities of Edinburgh and Manchester, signifies a critical step in understanding graphene’s interaction with the human body.

Despite the promising results, the researchers advocate for further investigations to explore the effects of higher doses or prolonged exposure to graphene, considering its incredibly fine structure.

Potential hazards of graphene oxide inhalation

Graphene’s allure as a ‘wonder material’ stems from its discovery in 2004 and its potential to revolutionize industries ranging from electronics to water purification.

Its application in developing targeted therapies for cancer and other health conditions, as well as its use in implantable devices and sensors, underscores the need for rigorous safety assessments before clinical use.

The research involved 14 volunteers who were exposed to graphene oxide under meticulously controlled conditions.

Participants breathed in the material through a mask while cycling within a mobile exposure chamber, ensuring precise monitoring of any health effects.

The study meticulously measured impacts on lung function, blood pressure, blood clotting, and inflammation markers, with follow-up tests conducted to compare responses to different sizes of graphene oxide and clean air.

No immediate threat to human health

Remarkably, the study found no significant adverse effects on lung function or blood pressure, with only a minimal suggestion of impact on blood clotting — a finding that underscores the need for careful material design in nanotechnology applications.

Dr. Mark Miller, from the University of Edinburgh, emphasized the importance of ensuring the safe manufacture of nanomaterials like graphene to harness their full potential safely.

“Nanomaterials such as graphene hold such great promise, but we must ensure they are manufactured in a way that is safe before they can be used more widely in our lives,” explained Dr. Miller.

“Being able to explore the safety of this unique material in human volunteers is a huge step forward in our understanding of how graphene could affect the body. With careful design we can safely make the most of nanotechnology.” 

The future of safe nanomaterials in medicine

Similarly, Professor Kostas Kostarelos of the University of Manchester and the Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICN2) in Barcelona highlighted the decade-long journey to this research milestone.

He reflected on the comprehensive approach combining materials science, biology, and clinical expertise.

“This is the first-ever controlled study involving healthy people to demonstrate that very pure forms of graphene oxide — of a specific size distribution and surface character — can be further developed in a way that would minimize the risk to human health,” said Kostarelos.

“It has taken us more than 10 years to develop the knowledge to carry out this research, from a materials and biological science point of view, but also from the clinical capacity to carry out such controlled studies safely by assembling some of the world’s leading experts in this field.” 

The British Heart Foundation’s Professor Bryan Williams lauded the study’s implications for the development of new medical devices and treatments, expressing anticipation for future studies that could pave the way for the safe use of nanomaterials in life-saving applications.

“The discovery that this type of graphene can be developed safely, with minimal short term side effects, could open the door to the development of new devices, treatment innovations and monitoring techniques,” Williams said.

“We look forward to seeing larger studies over a longer timeframe to better understand how we can safely use nanomaterials like graphene to make leaps in delivering lifesaving drugs to patients.” 

Graphene’s potential is finally for prime time

In summary, this exciting and long overdue study on graphene, particularly its oxide form, marks a significant milestone in the journey towards harnessing nanotechnology’s full potential while prioritizing human health.

Researchers have demonstrated that controlled exposure to graphene oxide poses no immediate threat to lung or cardiovascular health, laying a foundation for future innovations in various fields, from medicine to environmental technologies.

This research reassures the public and scientific community about the safety of emerging nanomaterials and encourages continued exploration and development, ensuring that the incredible promise of graphene can be realized safely and effectively.

As we venture further into the realm of nanotechnology, this study serves as a pivotal reminder of the importance of meticulous research and responsible application in unlocking the transformative power of materials like graphene.

The full study was published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.


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