The Graphene Flagship project has a dedicated Work Package studying the impact of graphene and related materials on our health, as well as their environmental impact. Researches and companies are currently using a range of materials such as few layered graphene, graphene oxide and heterostructures. The first step to assess the toxicology is to fully characterise these materials.
Göteborg/Sweden — Graphene is the world's first two-dimensional material and has a set of unique and outstanding properties. As well as being the thinnest, strongest and lightest known material, graphene is flexible, impermeable to molecules and extremely electrically and thermally conductive. Graphene is helping to facilitate the next generation of technology: from interconnects for data communication to screens and casings. For example, the strong and flexible nature of graphene makes flexible displays and bendable batteries possible. Its excellent sensing ability can be used in the next generation of wearable electronics and to develop building blocks for the internet of things.
As the drive to commercialise graphene continues, it is important that all safety aspects are thoroughly researched and understood. The current study overviews the production and characterisation methods, and considers different materials, which biological effects depend on their inherent properties.
One of the key messages is that this family of materials has varying properties, thus displaying varying biological effects. According to Bengt Fadeel, lead author of this paper working at Graphene Flagship partner Karolinska Institutet, Sweden, it is important to emphasize the need not only for a systematic analysis of well-characterized graphene-based materials, but also the importance of using standardised in vitro or in vivo assays for the safety assessment.
This review correlates the physicochemical characteristics of graphene and related materials to the biological effects. A classification based on lateral dimensions, number of layers and carbon-to-oxygen ratio allows the scientists to describe the parameters that can alter graphene's toxicology. This can orient future development and use of these materials, explains Alberto Bianco, from Graphene Flagship partner CNRS, France and deputy leader of the Graphene Flagship Work Package on Health and Environment.
The paper gives a comprehensive overview of all aspects of graphene health and environmental impact, focussing on the potential interactions of graphene-based materials with key target organs including immune system, skin, lungs, cardiovascular system, gastrointestinal system, central nervous system, reproductive system, as well as a wide range of other organisms including bacteria, algae, plants, invertebrates, and vertebrates in various ecosystems.
Fadeel argues that one could not draw conclusions from previous work on other carbon-based materials such as carbon nanotubes and extrapolate to graphene. Graphene-based materials were less cytotoxic when compared to carbon nanotubes and graphene oxide was readily degradable by cells of the immune system, he commented.
Andrea C. Ferrari, Science and Technology Officer of the Graphene Flagship and Chair of its Management Panel added that understanding any potential Health and Environmental impacts of graphene and related materials had been at the core of all Graphene Flagship activities since day one. This review provided a solid guide for the safe use of these materials, a key step towards their widespread utilization as targeted by the institutes innovation and technology roadmap.