The metals in graphite are known to be carcinogenic, but they have also been used as catalysts in other research.
The problem with graphite is that it’s a high-tech compound that’s not readily available in the United States, and scientists have been struggling to find a way to use it for research.
One solution is to use graphite as a catalyst.
Now, researchers in the U.K. are working to develop a way for a company called Intex to make graphite into a bio-inspired tool for cancer researchers.
In a new paper published in the journal ACS Nano, the team reports that they have created a catalyst that’s suitable for use in a cancer-detecting gel.
The process is easy enough: a piece of graphite called graphite Machining Metal (GMP) is mixed with liquid alkaline solution and then heated.
The mixture, which is then cooled to absolute zero, is then left to harden into a metal.
This process takes about a month, which gives the researchers ample time to build the gel.
After they have a gel ready, they add the gel to the graphite to make a bioinspired compound called Graphite Methanol, which the researchers say is capable of reducing cancer cell growth and the amount of toxic waste it produces.
The gel is then placed in a glass vial and left in the vial for about a week.
When the lab-grown gel is removed from the vials, it’s coated with a film of phospholipids called Oxyrin, which prevents the material from spreading.
The researchers are now testing their new process in mice.
“This is a really exciting work,” said lead author of the paper, Jodie Dymond.
“We’re able to create a bioanalytical gel from a single material, which we think could potentially be useful in the future.”
She added that the gel has been tested in rats, which indicates that the process can work in humans as well.
The study also showed that the Bioanalytical Gel can effectively eliminate waste.
“There’s not a lot of waste in a gel that’s a bioactive compound,” said co-author Andrew Taggart, also a researcher at the University of Bristol.
“The bioanalytic gel is able to eliminate waste from a high concentration of cells in the lab.
It’s an important step forward for the industry.”
The process can be easily scaled up, and it should be possible to produce a bioanalysis gel in a matter of weeks.
“Graphite is a great catalyst for bioanalysis, because it has the high mechanical strength and the low toxicological potential that makes it an ideal material for this kind of research,” said Dr. Paul Wetherill, a scientist at the Oxford Bioanalytic Laboratories.
“In addition to its ability to reduce cancer cells, it also has potential for cancer treatment.”
Dymonds co-authors are Jodietta Stebbins, an engineering lecturer at Bristol’s School of Materials and Nanoscience, and Andrew Stebbing, a research associate in the Department of Chemistry at the university.
The research was funded by the Wellcome Trust, the National Institutes of Health and the University College London.
This story originally appeared on Mashable.