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Graphene spikes slice away infection

A tiny layer of graphene flakes could become a deadly weapon against bacteria according to scientists from Sweden.

The team from Chalmers University of Technology has now shown that a layer of vertical graphene flakes forms a protective surface that can make it impossible for bacteria to attach – not only that, it can slice them apart. The team say this could have implications for implant surgery, although remain cautious about its use medically.

“Graphene has high potential for health applications. But more research is needed before we can claim it is entirely safe. Among other things, we know that graphene does not degrade easily.” Said Jie Sun, Associate Professor at the Department of Micro Technology and Nanoscience.

Operations for surgical implants, such as hip and knee replacements or dental implants, have increased in recent years and in such procedures, there is always a risk of bacterial infection. In the worst cases this can cause the implant to not attach to the skeleton, meaning it must be removed. The team hope that coating implants with a layer of graphene flakes can therefore help protect the patient against infection. The sharp flakes do not damage human cells.

“We discovered that the key parameter is to orient the graphene vertically. If it is horizontal, the bacteria are not harmed. We want to prevent bacteria from creating an infection. Otherwise, you may need antibiotics, which could disrupt the balance of normal bacteria and also enhance the risk of antimicrobial resistance by pathogens,” said Ivan Mijakovic, Professor at the Department of Biology and Biological Engineering. Chalmers 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.

Chalmers cooperated with Wellspect Healthcare, a company which makes catheters and other medical instruments, in this research. They will now continue with a second study.

The work is published in Advanced Materials Interfaces.

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