Recently published research from Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, suggests that a tiny layer of graphene flakes can kill bacteria, stopping infection during procedures such as implant surgery.
Operations for surgical implants, such as hip and knee replacements have increased in recent years. However, these procedures carry a risk of bacterial infection which could in turn cause the implant to not attach to the skeleton, meaning it must be removed. Now, research shows how graphene can kill bacteria on such implants.
A research team have shown that a layer if vertical graphene flakes form a protective surface that makes it impossible for bacteria to attach to. Instead, the bacteria are sliced apart by the sharp graphene flakes and killed.
Coating implants with a layer of graphene flakes can therefore help patients against infection, eliminating the need for antibiotic treatment and reduce the risk of implant rejection.
Graphene research for biological applications
Chalmers University is a leader in the area of graphene research, however, the biological applications did not begin to occur until a few years ago.
In previous studies, the researchers saw conflicting results, with some suggesting graphene damaged the bacteria and others showed that they were not affected.
Ivan Mijakovic, Professor at the Department of Biology and Biological Engineering said: “We discovered that the key parameter is to orient the graphene vertically. If it is horizontal, the bacteria are not harmed.”
The sharp flakes do not damage human cells because one bacterium is one micrometre – one thousandth of a millimetre – in diameter, while a human cell is 25 micrometres. So, where the bacteria will be sliced and killed, is only a tiny scratch for a human cell.
Jie Sun, Associate Professor at the Department of Micro Technology and Nanoscience said: “Graphene has high potential for health applications. But more research is needed before we can claim it is entirely safe.”
Vertical flakes of graphene are not a new development. However, the Chalmers research teams are the first to use the vertical graphene in this way.
The next step for the research team will be to test the graphene flakes further, by coating implant surfaces and studying the effect on animal cells.