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Graphene oxide and rGO microparticles not toxic to mouse lung cells

Marko Spasenovic graphene graphene health graphene research graphene toxicity

Recent research showed that graphene (reduced graphene oxide, rGO) and graphene oxide (GO) particles larger than 1 micron in size are not cytotoxic or genotoxic to mouse lung cells. The study, performed using Graphenea graphene and involving the company's scientists, tested GO and rGO toxicity epithelial FE1 cells in vitro. GO and rGO have potential uses in biomedical applications, for example in biosensors, as a substrate in mass spectroscopy and for cell growth, and as drug delivery carriers.

Toxicity of nanoparticles (NP) is an important topic, due to the growing prevalence of NPs in research and production. Because of the multitude of compositions, shapes, and sizes of NPs, toxicity is an issue that needs to be addressed to each type of NP separately.

Figure: Morphology of GO and rGO (Wiley).


The first step in toxicity research always takes place “in vitro”, where cells are exposed to the potentially harmful agent and later analyzed for damage. The latest research, involving eight institutions from Denmark, France, and Spain, concluded that few layered GO and rGO with lateral size above 1 micrometer were not cytotoxic or genotoxic to FE1 mouse epithelial cells at concentrations up to 200 micrograms/ml. Mouse lung cells are commonly used in the first steps of toxicity studies. Although our study shows that no DNA strand breaks occur in cells due to exposure to GO and rGO particles of this size, earlier studies reveal that smaller particles, i.e. GO nanoparticles with sizes smaller than 500 nm, do cause DNA strand breaks. Carbon black has also been shown to be toxic and possibly carcinogenic to humans.

The research was published in the journal Environmental and Molecular Mutagenesis.

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  • Jonathan Fosdick on

    Graphene oxide quantum dots are considered significantly less toxic than, let’s say, cadmium arsenide quantum dots. There are conflicting reports of the cytotoxicity of small-sized carbon nanoparticles, particularly between papers on the toxicity or biocompatibility of graphene nanoplatelets. As one who works with graphene often, and even synthesis of graphene oxide quantum dots (5-8nm), the DNA cleavage caused by GO and rGO < 1um has me worried. I have heard of previous reports on the matter, so this was no news. What I’m concerned with is during the synthesis of graphene via top-down routes, these smaller diameter graphene sheets are often formed (and drastically much more so, if processing is lengthened). Purfification and fine tuning the synthesis is often required for a consistent quality and size. Unfortunately, working directly with these powders and suspensions during synthesis puts many in risk. I have seen graphene nanosheets penetrate clean through nitrile gloves and face masks. Unless you are privy to work in an expensive clean room with all the best PPE, it is seemingly becoming more risky making the material.

    On an interesting note, I know that soot, carbon black and other nanoparticles are formed through pyrolysis and the incomplete combustion of carbon-containing materials, and humankind has long since made many a fire. Does the human body have any adapted defenses for inhaled soot, aside from coughing? Perhaps an autoimmune or cellular defense mechanism(s). Our ancient ancestors thrived making fires, huddling close around these same fires, inhaling soot and cooking food over flames. Were they were more resilient, bolstering stronger immunological defenses, thus preventing cancer or genetic anomalies? If so, then we can discover why some have lost the genes that would support these defenses. The human body’s ability to prevent certain cancers from growing is well known, but long lost immunity to certain cancers is worth researching.

    It is great to know how the dimensions of nanomaterials affect toxicity. And in this case, looking into the cytotoxic and mutagenic potential of graphene oxide and reduced graphene oxide, because of how marvelous this material works as tissue scaffolds. We all need continued research into the health and safety of carbon nanomaterials.

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