Nanoparticles are going to begin the next big change in medicine. It is going to take quite a lot of time still, but nanoparticles will represent a new very accurate drug delivery mechanism. Now scientists from UCL developed a way of transporting tiny particles of graphite in liquid using magnetic fields. And that liquid could be in the human body, which opens the doors for all kinds of non-invasive healthcare diagnosis and drug delivery techniques.
These graphite particles are the size of a tenth of a human hair. In other words, you cannot see of feel them in any way. However, these particles could be used to deliver drugs directly into selected sites, but for that to work we need to control their movement. Scientists now created a method, which uses a weak type of magnetism, called diamagnetism. Previous researches with frogs proved that diamagnetism can be used safely and now scientists are hoping that they will be able to control micro-graphite in a completely bio-compatible medium.
Scientists say that this challenge is a bit like moving a tennis ball in honey without being able to touch it. The way this works is that diamagnetic graphite is repelled by magnetic fields and moves to regions of lowest magnetic field – the opposite of what ferromagnetic materials do. Applying easy-to-use time-constant magnetic fields allows controlling graphite particles very directly and very precisely in three-dimensional medium. And graphite is perfect for this, because it is the most strongly diamagnetic material known to man. Of course, for this to work the nanoparticles have to be prepared using some complex technology. At first, graphite sheets have to be broken down using microwaves and then particles can be coated in lipid layers to prevent clumping in water.
While the method seems to be working fine, scientists are yet to apply it in practice. They are happy that this method will provide opportunities for new therapies. Dr Isabel Llorente-Garcia, lead author of the study, said: “Our work opens the door to a range of new possibilities for exploiting the fascinating properties of micro-graphite for remote non-invasive manipulation applications in bio-sensing, drug delivery, biophysics and soft-electronic experiments”. In other words, scientists created a technology, which can find its application in a huge variety of situations.
Graphite is a peculiar material. Essentially it is just a form of carbon. It is highly conductive, strongly anisotropic and, of course, marking. You can find it in your electronic and your pencils, but soon tiny little graphite particles could be delivering drugs straight into your cells.