Unlocking graphene’s potential

Manchester PhD student Chris Hoyle has made a discovery that could have a major positive impact on healthcare in the future.

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The University of Manchester is the home of graphene. The one-atom thick wonder-material was first isolated here by Professors Konstantin Novoselov and Andre Geim in 2004.

Since then, countless potential uses for graphene have been investigated in areas as far-ranging as optical imaging, consumer electronics and healthcare.

Chris Hoyle, a recipient of a donor-funded Research Impact Scholarship, is looking into graphene’s possibly ground-breaking usage in tissue engineering and drug delivery.

A chance discovery

But this was not the original area that Chris was planning to investigate in his research. This specific project stemmed from a serendipitous discovery during another experiment in which he happened to be using graphene. Given the understandable excitement around graphene, he was particularly interested in following up on this initial finding.

“Because of the potential biological applications for graphene, it’s crucial to understand its interactions with biological systems. For example, administered graphene will inevitably be detected by the immune system, which is normally scanning the body for infection, small particles and bits of debris that it needs to remove to keep you healthy.

“If we can better understand how graphene affects the immune system, this may help it to be more widely used in biology.”

Anti-inflammatory effect

Chris is into the second year of his project and, despite it still being in its relative infancy, it is clear that his work has numerous overarching themes and could have a significant impact not just on the field of engineering but also on the health sector.

“My research so far has focused on using a particular form of graphene called graphene oxide, trying to see how it affects the immune system, particularly looking at whether it promotes an inflammatory response from certain immune cells. Overall, I have discovered an interesting anti-inflammatory effect of graphene.”

Whilst the consequences of graphene limiting an inflammatory response will need to be investigated further, Chris is breaking new ground with his research. No one has discovered this effect of graphene before and it could have a positive impact on future healthcare treatments.

Improving drug delivery

“This discovery adds another piece of interesting information to the graphene jigsaw. Various other research groups around the world are looking at similar things so combining all of this information could help us to complete this jigsaw, potentially facilitating the use of graphene in biomedical applications in the future.

“Once we can do this, we might be able to use graphene for the applications that are currently being researched, such as a mechanism to improve drug delivery, or in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.”

Tissue engineering and regenerative medicine involve the assembling of functional constructs that restore, maintain, or improve damaged tissues or whole organs.

Due to its mechanical strength and electrical conductivity, graphene could be used in tissue engineering or indeed improving drug delivery as graphene’s large surface areas mean that it can be loaded with a large amount of drug molecules compared to current drug delivery systems. If further investigation and testing confirms graphene to be suitable and safe in drug delivery, it would make the transport of drugs to the targeted area in the body much more efficient.

Chris is excited at making a key contribution to research into this ground-breaking new material.

“On a personal note, it would be a great achievement to get this research published, as a first-author publication is something that I’ve always aspired to produce. However, more importantly, getting these findings out there into the scientific domain could perhaps aid future research and understanding in this area.”

Research Impact Scholarship

Chris’s Research Impact Scholarship is funded by donations from our alumni and supporters. The Research Impact programme is specifically designed to support research projects that are aligned to one or more of the University’s research priorities. Research Impact Scholarships provide many students like Chris the financial help they need to carry out their research to the best of their ability.

Without these scholarships, much of this research simply may not happen.

“It’s great to have been awarded such a prestigious award. I would like to thank my donors for helping facilitate my research. Science in particular is an endeavour that requires vast sums of money to make it possible to generate high quality results and data. Therefore, kind and generous donations really do make a difference.”

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