|Graphene, a single layer of carbon atoms, could be used for a variety of medical purposes.--Courtesy of Graphene Flagship|
The European Union is betting heavily on graphene, a potential material of the future with several med tech applications, via a €1 billion ($1.3 billion) research fund dubbed the Graphene Flagship.
The material could form drug delivering drones powered by a spinning tail that is similar to a sperm's, according to Graphene Flagship-funded researcher Kosta Kostarelos of the U.K.'s University of Manchester. "If you design this self-propelling vehicle, and you get in front of a cell you want to transfer therapeutic materials into, how would you do it?" Kostarelos told Bloomberg. "Can graphene slide through a cell's plasma membrane? The answer is yes."
In the article Kostarelos said he is "trying to design vehicles that you can inject in the bloodstream or eyeball or spinal cord or in the brain, to try and get to a particular diseased cell population, so you don't create collateral damage." His team is studying the effects of graphene upon the body, especially the kidneys, to ensure the safety of the potential in vivo medical devices of the future.
Royal Philips ($PHG), best known for its imaging devices, is among the companies receiving EU funding for graphene research, according to Bloomberg. South Korea's Samsung is among the corporate leaders in the arena. Graphene-based foldable touchable screens are under development, Bloomberg says.
The EU touts the fund as a means of commercializing European research. Asians and Americans have successfully commercialized other European ideas like the MP3 and World Wide Web, the article points out. But the U.S. is interested in graphene, too. The National Science Foundation, Department of Energy and Department of Defense are all studying the material. And the National Institutes of Health just funded research to create a synthetic nanopore from graphene to allow faster DNA detection.
Graphene's unique properties include its strength, conductivity, and perhaps most importantly, its width of just one atom, making it a 2-D structure. The molecule consists of sheets of solely carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal structure.