This illustration shows a layer of graphene supported on a fatty lipid monolayer. Image: Leiden University.
This illustration shows a layer of graphene supported on a fatty lipid monolayer. Image: Leiden University.

For the first time, researchers from Leiden University, led by chemist Grégory Schneider, have succeeded in placing a layer of graphene on top of a stable fatty lipid monolayer. This is the first step towards surrounded graphene with a protective shell of lipids, which would allow the material to enter the body and function as a versatile sensor. This work is reported in a paper in Nanoscale, and Schneider and his colleagues have also submitted a patent on their findings.

Graphene consists of a single layer of carbon atoms. Not only is it extremely thin, strong and flexible, but it can also conduct electricity very efficiently. As such, it is being investigated for use in a wide range of potential applications, including medical applications. ‘Graphene is particularly sensitive and can respond to its environment in the body’, says Schneider, meaning it could form the basis for novel biosensors and diagnostic devices.

To make graphene suitable for these applications, hard inorganic materials are often used as a support. However, these hard materials are not ideal when graphene is used within the body. For this reason, scientists are looking for soft, organic molecules to bind with graphene, such as lipids.

Lipids are fats that can be found in the cell membrane, which consists of a double layer of lipids. Placing graphene between these two layers could allow it to travel through the body freely. ‘A method that is already used with cancer medicines,’ explains Schneider. ‘We made a single layer of lipids in the lab and transferred graphene on top: a first step towards mimicking the cell membrane.’

In their research, the scientists discovered that a layer of lipids provides good support for graphene, using infrared measurements to prove the stability of the lipid layer. They also found that the lipids actually improve graphene’s electrical conductivity. This is a particularly promising finding, as it suggests that it should be possible to measure the electrical signals of graphene in the body. These signals can reveal information about the surrounding bodily environment, like the acidity or the presence of certain proteins.

‘However, we still have a long way to go’, says Schneider. ‘The next step is to place a lipid layer on both sides of graphene, like a sandwich.’

This story is adapted from material from Leiden University, with editorial changes made by Materials Today. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Elsevier. Link to original source.