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Graphene shows cancer treatment potential

02 March 2015

By Sophie McLachlan

Appeared in BioNews 792

Researchers have developed a novel approach to cancer treatment using the carbon-based nanomaterial graphene to target cancer stem cells (CSCs).

The findings suggest that graphene could be used to kill off the reservoir of CSCs, which are frequently responsible for the spread or recurrence of cancer, and often left behind by currently available treatments.

The paper, published in the journal Oncotarget, showed that graphene oxide flakes were effective across six different cancer cell types including breast, lung and pancreatic cancers.

'Cancer stem cells differentiate to form a small mass of cells known as a tumour-sphere. We saw that the graphene oxide flakes prevented CSCs from forming these, and instead forced them to differentiate into non-cancer stem cells,' explained study author Dr Aravind Vijayaraghavan from the University of Manchester.

Furthermore, using a line of skin cells, the researchers found that graphene oxide appeared to be non-toxic to healthy cells.

CSCs act as the foundations of a tumour and therefore even if the 'bulk' of tumour is destroyed, if this cell population remains, it is capable of regrowing. 

'Cancer stem cells possess the ability to give rise to many different tumour cell types,' explained Professor Michael Lisanti, Director of the Manchester Centre for Cellular Metabolism. 'They are responsible for the spread of cancer within the body - known as metastasis - which is responsible for 90 percent of cancer deaths.'

As conventional radiation and chemotherapies only kill the 'bulk' cancer cells, the researchers suggest that graphene oxide could be used in conjunction with existing treatments to prevent tumour recurrence.

'Graphene oxide could possibly be applied as a lavage or rinse during surgery to clear CSCs or as a drug targeted at CSCs,' added co-author Dr Federica Sotgia, also from the University of Manchester.

Since its Nobel-prize winning discovery in 2004, graphene has shown potential in a range of technologies. Research regarding its application in cancer treatment has largely revolved around use in drug delivery. However, 'in this work, surprisingly, it's the graphene oxide itself that has been shown to be an effective anti-cancer drug,' said Dr Vijayaraghavan.

He added: 'Naturally, any new discovery such as this needs to undergo extensive study and trials before emerging as a therapeutic. We hope that these exciting results in laboratory cell cultures can translate into an equally effective real-life option for cancer therapy.'

Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News | 25 February 2015
Oncotarget | 24 February 2015
Medical News Today | 26 February 2015
Eurekalert (press release) | 25 February 2015
Manchester Evening News | 27 February 2015


09 March 2015 - by Isobel Steer 
A combined stem cell and gene therapy for lung cancer will get its first clinical trial in the UK, the Medical Research Council has announced...

12 January 2015 - by Kirsty Oswald 
Researchers have estimated that around 65 percent of variation in cancer rates between tissue types is related to the number of stem cell divisions, explaining why cancer occurs more commonly in some parts of the body than others...
19 May 2014 - by Dr Lanay Griessner 
Definitive support for the existence of human cancer stem cells has been found, according to researchers at the University of Oxford and the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden...
11 March 2013 - by Dr Daniel Grimes 
The source of stem cell-like cells that can give rise to ovarian cancer in mice has been found, reports a study in the journal Nature...
13 August 2012 - by Dr Greg Ball 
Three research groups, each studying a different type of cancer in mice, have published results that support the theory that tumour growth is driven by 'cancer stem cells'....

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