Medical graphene sensor breakthrough for Trinity nanoscience team

8 Jun 2015

In a vital breakthrough a team of researchers at the AMBER nanoscience labs at Trinity have found a way of using graphene to detect diseases. Trinity College image via Shutterstock

Researchers at the AMBER labs at Trinity’s School of Chemistry have developed a graphene-based sensor that is capable of detecting cholera toxins and providing earlier diagnosis of cancer and other diseases.

The sensor, known as a Surface Plasmon Resonance (SPR) sensor, is an established optical technique for medical diagnosis with high sensitivity and specificity, and can potentially be used for lab-on-a-chip sensors.

The AMBER team’s work was recently published in the prestigious Journal of the American Chemical Society.

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The researchers discovered that the addition of graphene leads to a two-fold increase in the sensor signal.

Graphene is a single-atom thick sheet of carbon with extraordinary properties: it is ultra-light, flexible and transparent.

‘This type of sensing platform offers a large variety for medical diagnostics, since it can be adapted to almost any type of disease markers’ — Prof Georg Duesberg

It amplifies the signal of the SPR sensor and the ultra-thin layer can also anchor individual molecules for a specific disease. This sensor was used for the detection of cholera toxins, but it could be expanded to other diseases, such as cancer.

The cholera toxin was detected within minutes, in contrast to current detection techniques, which may take hours or even days.

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“We showed experimentally that simply the addition of graphene led to a clear increase in the sensor signal,” Georg Duesberg explained.

“This type of sensing platform offers a large variety for medical diagnostics, since it can be adapted to almost any type of disease markers.”

The graphene grown in Professor Duesberg’s lab has been shown to be more suited to the sensor development than other forms of graphene used previously. The graphene growth technique is known as chemical vapour deposition (CVD) and it creates large areas of single-layer graphene with few defects. The lack of defects and homogeneity of the graphene surface is what aids the amplification of the sensor signal.

Professor Duesberg is a member of Europe’s Graphene Flagship, which lays out a science and technology road map, targeting research areas designed to take graphene and related 2D materials from academic laboratories into society.

With 142 partners in 23 countries, the Graphene Flagship was established following a call from the European Commission to address big science and technology challenges of the day through long-term, multi-disciplinary R&D efforts.

Trinity image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years