Using Graphene-Biosensor to Detect Early-Stage Lung Cancer Biomarkers

A technique recently developed by researchers from the University of Exeter could potentially detect lung cancer biomarkers using graphene. The sensor makes use of this revolutionary material and detects markers such as ethanol, acetone, and isopropanol in breath to screen for lung cancer presence.

This new device belongs to a class of technologies known as electronic nose (e-nose) devices, being that it detects odorant particles in a vapor mixture and analyzes them to identify their source. The researchers behind the project feel their system may be a promising approach to identifying lung cancer biomarkers in their earliest stages in a convenient manner. This reusable approach would establish itself as a cost-effective and beneficial service for health care professionals.

READ MORE: Medical Breath Analyzer Successfully Detects 17 Diseases

“The new biosensors which we have developed show that graphene has significant potential for use as an electrode in e-nose devices,” said Ben Hogan, a postgraduate researcher from the University of Exeter and co-author of the paper. “For the first time, we have shown that with suitable patterning graphene can be used as a specific, selective and sensitive detector for biomarkers. We believe that with further development of our devices, a cheap, reusable and accurate breath test for early-stage detection of lung cancer can become a reality.”

Detecting lung cancers in their earliest stages has been a challenge that researchers have long struggled with. Lung cancer accounts for a majority of annual cancer deaths in men and women, killing roughly 1.4 million annually. Patient outcomes improve as the cancer is identified and treated sooner in its progression, however, the lack of clinical symptoms in early stages lead to delayed diagnoses. Additionally, the cytologically altered cancer cells gain mobility and are very prone to form metastases in other regions of the body.


There are currently no inexpensive and widely available screening methods for oncologists to offer their patients for early lung cancer diagnosis, however with this paper regarding graphene biosensors detecting exhaled biomarkers offers hope.

Using multi-layered graphene, the Exeter team exemplified that e-nose devices that use sensors in concert with recognition software, such as neural networks, could add lung cancer to breath diagnoses.

The scientists used patterned electrodes in these graphene layers to detect ethanol, isopropanol, and acetone, three of the most common biomarkers in lung cancer. Their system was able to detect these compounds at variable concentrations such as in early-stage cancer.

READ MORE: Trial Underway to Assess Breath Test for Early Cancer Diagnosis

Graphene is the world’s strongest and thinnest material and is comprised of a one-atom thick sheet of carbon. Being a conductive yet transparent compound of low cost and environmental impact, the material has recently received a great deal of press as a candidate for biosensors. Read more about the material’s utility in biosensing here.

Sources: Nanoscale, Science Daily