Cytotoxic agents are currently the main course of treatment for metastatic cancers. Unfortunately, these treatments often result in the destruction of healthy cells, are highly toxic and can lead to chemo-resistance. This support the need to find new effective targeted treatments and seek delivery methods which overcome drug resistance.
The exploration of graphene in drug delivery for cancer treatment was first initiated in 2008 by Stanford University and has been since the topic of intensive research. Due to the 2D structure and high specific surface area, graphene is able to adsorb a variety of therapeutic molecules with high capacity and even facilitate their entry into the cell. Moreover, by taking advantage of the enhanced permeability and retention (EPR) effect of tumors, the use of Graphene as a drug nanocarrier for cancer treatment has the potential to passively deliver chemotherapeutic and metabolism altering agents to cancer populations with increased specificity, whilst minimizing dosage and side effects of the drugs.
Manipulating the hydrophilic–lipophilic properties of graphene (blue hexagonal planes) through chemical modification would allow interactions with biological membranes (purple-white double layer), such as drug delivery into the interior of a cell (blue region) (Ref. doi:10.1038/nature11458 – A roadmap for graphene)
However, as most publications conclude, more pre-clinical studies and extensive clinical trials will be necessary to move this forward into the clinic to ensure patient benefit.
Towards this end, a research project led by Associate Professor Hanne Røland Hagland, is investigating the use of CealTech’s graphene as drug carrier for treatment of cancer, using cell models from leukaemia and colorectal cancer. The project is carried out at the Centre for Organelle Research (CORE), and is in collaboration with Prof. Lars Herfindal from the University of Bergen.
Ph.D. candidate Abdelnour Alhourani and MSc candidate Jan Lukas Førde are working on developing a graphene-based drug nanocarrier for dual chemotherapeutic and adjuvant metabolic drug delivery. Their work will focus on testing the cellular localization of fluorophore-conjugated graphene sheets of controlled sizes, and adapting appropriate biocompatible polymer functionalization to better understand the intracellular effects of graphene. The aim is to determine the capacity of CealTech’s graphene to enhance chemotherapy by shuttling adjuvant metabolism altering agents that are able to reverse chemo resistance. The viability of this approach is to be tested through multiples cell-based assays to monitor the cytotoxicity and metabolic shifts of cancer cells before additional testing in more advanced model systems.