Human IMMune profiling of Graphene NanoRibbons (IMM-GNRs) 

To promote the Safe and Healthy use of ‘Future and Emerging Technologies’ such as innovative carbon-based nanomaterials, the study of their interactions with blood immune cells is of fundamental importance for any translational medicine application, in particular, those requiring intravenous injection.

Current approaches have little addressed the impact of nanomaterials on the complex orchestra of immune cells. Some work performed with very few immune cell types has shed some light on the immune impact of a very limited number of nanomaterials, in particular carbon nanomaterials, compared at a time. However, no labs in Europe, USA or Asia were able to give a broad picture on the interaction of several immune cell populations with a wide variety of well-characterized nanomaterials. No research group has provided so far a harmonized cutting-edge method for a classification of nanomaterials based not only on their chemical and physical characteristics, but also on their immunological responses and immune properties. Indeed, a thorough evaluation of the immune system interaction with nanomaterials it is only possible by the adoption of new advanced tools allowing multiplex analysis of cell types, cell activation and soluble mediators. Despite graphene-based materials have recently attracted a great interest for biomedical applications, their immunological potential impact is a still missing picture.


Graphene nanoribbons (GNRs) are finite sized graphene materials with confined widths. In contrast to other carbon nanomaterials such as graphene oxide, GNRs via the bottom-up organic synthesis (developed by the supervisor Prof. X.Feng) will provide key novel aspects: i) the perfect control of structure at the atomic level ensuring higher reproducibility; ii) the possible conjugation with polar PEG-side chains, allowing very stable dispersion in water [[1]]; iii) the tailoring with different molecules and drugs, opening fascinating perspectives in healthcare. All these advantages compared to other nanomaterials make them “gold” carbon tools for their development in a medical direction. However, although all these features pave the way for the pharmaceutical market uptake, no work has still addressed their potential immune impact.

[1] Chen L, .., Feng X, Müllen K. From nanographene and graphene nanoribbons to graphene sheets: chemical synthesis. Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2012

IMM-GNRs intends to overcome the aforementioned limits of conventional nano-immunotoxicology approaches. IMM-GNRs will provide a comprehensive and quantitative picture of the GNRs immune activity in relation to their structural properties (shape, edge structures, width, size, molecular weight), enhancing the European scientific excellence in graphene and 2D materials research by the Innovation Union aim to strengthen EU knowledge base. By implementing the “free mobility of researchers, scientific knowledge, and technology” approach for the optimal circulation, access to and transfer of scientific knowledge envisaged by European Research Area policy, IMM-GNRs aims at incising the highly strategic field of graphene and 2D materials as well as nanomedicine at EU level and beyond.

IMM-GNRs will provide an innovative library of GNRs in relation not only to their physicochemical properties but also to their ability to up or down regulate the immune cell function (see section 1.1.3), investigating the potential molecular mechanisms underlying the observed immune-functions (see Figure 1 for Action overview).

To reach these overall goals, specific objectives, methodologies and ambitious results are defined in Figure 2.

These results have been presented, as poster and oral contributions, in the following meeting/international conferences and invited seminar:

1) Workshop “Attracting Researchers to Apply for Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowships at TU Dresden” (25th-27th June 2018, TUD Dresden, Germany), where she had a talk on 26th June about her personal experience of writing her MSCA IF proposal.

2) She served as a Chair and had the talk entitled “Graphene and the immune cells: a box of opportunities” at the Graphene 2018 Conference (26th -29th June 2018, Dresden, Germany).

3) She was a speaker with a talk concerning “Carbon Nanomaterials and Graphene Interactions with immune cells: a box of opportunities” at the CDT Conference on Graphene and 2D Materials (5th July 2018 Manchester, UK).

4) She had a talk entitled “Carbon Nanomaterials and the immune cells: a box of opportunities” at the Frontiers on Immunology Workshop (10th July 2018, Milan, Italy).

5) She attended the Symposium on Advanced Materials 30th Anniversary – Advanced Carbon & 2D Materials” (16th July, 2018, Dresden, Germany).

6) She had a talk at the “Erfahrungsaustausch für Wissenschaftlerinnen zu ERC und Marie-Skłodowska-Curie-Maßnahmen” (12nd November 2018, TU Dresden).

7) She received an invitation to visit the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) and hold a seminar concerning “Future applications for graphene: the painting of immune cells” (14th February 2019, Genoa, Italy).

8) She attended the Graphene Week 2019 conference (25th September 2019, Helsinki, Finland), where was a speaker with a talk concerning “Immune dysregulation and bone loss during long-term space travels: how can graphene help?”. Within this talk, she also presented part of the results obtained during the MSCA fellow in Xinliang Feng laboratory.

Moreover, a manuscript entitled “Deep Immune profiling and tracking by single cell mass cytometry of graphene nanoribbons” is under preparation and it will be submitted in early 2020 to ACS Nano journal or similar advanced journal and one review under unvitation on “Theranostics” IF 8 is under revision.