What is Graphene Oxide

Graphene oxide (GO) is a compound derived from graphene, which is a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice. Graphene itself has remarkable properties, such as high electrical conductivity, mechanical strength, and thermal conductivity. Graphene oxide is produced by the oxidation of graphene, introducing oxygen-containing functional groups like epoxide, hydroxyl, and carboxyl groups onto the graphene structure.

History: The history of graphene oxide can be traced back to the early 19th century, but it gained significant attention in the last two decades due to the isolation of graphene. In 2004, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov successfully isolated graphene, earning them the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010[i]. The subsequent research on graphene and its derivatives, including graphene oxide, has explored various applications across different fields.

Graphene nanoparticles have electronic and thermal conductivity. They also have superior mechanical strength and optical properties[ii]. Due to these physiochemical properties they have a broad range of applications including, but not limited to electrochemistry, biomedicine, biosensing, drug delivery, high energy capacity batteries and super capacitors[iii].


  1. Skin Vaccine Delivery: The study you provided, Skin Vaccination with Graphene Oxide, delves into the potential of graphene oxide for delivering vaccines through the skin. The skin is a promising route for vaccination due to its accessibility and the presence of immune cells. Graphene oxide’s unique properties, such as its ability to penetrate the skin, make it a potential candidate for improving vaccine delivery[iv].
  2. Intranasal Vaccine Adjuvant: Another application involves the use of graphene oxide nanoparticles as adjuvants for intranasal vaccine delivery. Graphene oxide nanoparticles act as potent adjuvants when delivered intranasally. This suggests their potential role in improving the efficacy of vaccines through nasal administration[v].
  3. Water Purification: Graphene oxide’s exceptional properties extend to water purification. Filtering system utilize graphene oxide composite membranes have the ability to remove a wide range of contaminates from the water. They are used extensively for water purification worldwide in both public and private water treatment plants[vi]. However, studies have shown that residual graphene oxide particles are released into water during treatment[vii].
  4. Aerosol Vaccine Delivery: Aerosol administration has been shown to be an efficient way to deliver vaccines, especially in respiratory infections. Graphite oxide’s properties facilitate effective vaccine delivery through aerosol, offering a potential alternative to traditional vaccination methods[viii].
  5. Vaccination by Food Intake: Research has shown that vaccination through food intake can occur. A study Vaccination by Food Intake[ix] and Food-Mediated Vaccination[x] explored the possibility of delivering vaccines through food.
  6. Vaccination through Drinking Water: Studies have also shown that vaccination can occur through drinking water which will allow a widespread method for immunization that could easily be accomplished against targeted populations with, or without there consent[xi].

Some of the Adverse Effects Graphene Oxide has on the Immune System: While graphene’s applications in medicine are exciting, concerns about its potential impact on the immune system have been raised. Several studies have investigated the interaction between graphene and immune cells showing adverse effects.

  • Inflammatory Response: Some studies suggest that graphene and its derivatives may induce an inflammatory response. Inflammation is a crucial part of the immune system’s defense mechanism, but chronic or excessive inflammation can lead to adverse effects on tissues and organs. Graphene Oxide has been shown to effect the alveolar-capillary barrier, allowing inflammatory cells to infiltrate into the lungs and stimulate the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines[xii]. Fibrosis and inflammation could be verified by the increased levels of the protein markers.
  • Cytotoxicity: Graphene’s interaction with immune cells may lead to cytotoxic effects, affecting cell viability and function. They have been showed to adversely effect the body’s T-lymphocytes[xiii]. Without properly functioning T lymphocytes, every pathogenic exposure could be life-threatening[xiv] The size, shape, and surface characteristics of graphene-based materials play a role in determining their cytotoxicity.
  • Immunosuppression: There is limited evidence suggesting that graphene may have immunosuppressive effects. Immunosuppression involves the inhibition of the immune system’s activity, including biomarkers potentially making individuals more susceptible to infections or impairing the body’s ability to respond to threats[xv]. A biomarker is a biological molecule found in blood and other body fluids, or tissues. It is a sign of a normal or abnormal process, or of a condition or disease. It may be used to see how well the body responds to a treatment for a disease or condition[xvi].
  • Other adverse effects include, physical destruction, oxidative stress, DNA damage, apoptosis, autophagy, and necrosis.

Future Prospects: The future of graphene oxide in these applications depends on continued research and development. Addressing challenges such as biocompatibility, toxicity, and large-scale production will be crucial for translating these findings into practical applications. Ongoing studies will likely uncover new possibilities and refine existing techniques, further advancing the field of graphene oxide-based technologies.

Contamination Concerns

Water Contamination: Graphene oxide can enter water sources through various pathways, including industrial discharge, runoff from landfills or waste sites, and accidental spills during manufacturing or transportation[xvii].

Impact on Aquatic Life: Studies have shown that graphene oxide nanoparticles can have adverse effects on aquatic organisms, including fish, algae, and invertebrates. These effects may include toxicity, oxidative stress, and disruption of biological processes[xviii].

Water Treatment: Graphene oxide nanoparticles are small and stable in aqueous environments, making them difficult to remove through conventional water treatment processes. This raises concerns about their potential accumulation in water bodies and the need for advanced treatment methods to mitigate contamination[xix].

Air Contamination: Airborne graphene oxide particles may be generated during the manufacturing, handling, and processing of graphene-based materials. Workers in industries such as nanotechnology, electronics, and materials science may be at risk of occupational exposure to graphene oxide aerosols. Inhalation of graphene oxide nanoparticles could pose health risks, including respiratory irritation, inflammation, and potential long-term effects such as fibrosis or lung cancer. However, more research is needed to fully understand the health impacts of airborne graphene oxide exposure[xx].

Food Contamination: Graphene oxide-based materials have been explored for use in food packaging applications due to their barrier properties and antimicrobial activity. However, concerns have been raised about the potential migration of graphene oxide nanoparticles from packaging materials into food products[xxi].


[i] https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/physics/2010/summary/
[ii] Cherian R.S., Sreejith R., Syama S., Sruthi S., Gayathri V., Maekawa T., Sakthikumar D., Mohanan P. Evaluation of Toxicity of Maura Reduced Graphene Oxide Using in Vitro Systems. J. Nanomed. Nanotechnol. 2014;5:200.
[iii] Lategan K, Alghadi H, Bayati M, de Cortalezzi MF, Pool E. Effects of Graphene Oxide Nanoparticles on the Immune System Biomarkers Produced by RAW 264.7 and Human Whole Blood Cell Cultures. Nanomaterials (Basel). 2018 Feb 24;8(2):125. doi: 10.3390/nano8020125. PMID: 29495255; PMCID: PMC5853756.
[iv] Silva FALS, Costa-Almeida R, Timochenco L, Amaral SI, Pinto S, Gonçalves IC, Fernandes JR, Magalhães FD, Sarmento B, Pinto AM. Graphene Oxide Topical Administration: Skin Permeability Studies. Materials (Basel). 2021 May 25;14(11):2810. doi: 10.3390/ma14112810. PMID: 34070414; PMCID: PMC8197561.
[v] Dong C., Wang Y., Gonzalez G., Wang BZ. Intranasal vaccination with influenza HA/GO-PEI nanoparticles provides immune protection against homo- and heterologous strains, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences e2024998118, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2024998118
[vi] LinSheng Zhu, XiaoXin Guo, YunQiang Chen, Zhou Chen, YiHong Lan, YuBin Hong, and WeiGuang Lan, Graphene Oxide Composite Membranes for Water Purification, ACS Applied Nano Materials 2022 5 (3), 3643-3653 DOI: 10.1021/acsanm.1c04322
[vii] Peng Chen, Hongqiang Li, Hao Yi, Feifei Jia, Lang Yang, Shaoxian Song,Removal of graphene oxide from water by floc-flotation,Separation and Purification Technology,Volume 202,2018,Pages 27-33,ISSN 1383-5866.
[viii] Roth Y, Chapnik JS, Cole P. Feasibility of aerosol vaccination in humans. Ann Otol Rhinol Laryngol. 2003 Mar;112(3):264-70. doi: 10.1177/000348940311200313. PMID: 12656420.
[ix] Korban SS, Krasnyanski SF, Buetow DE. Foods as production and delivery vehicles for human vaccines. J Am Coll Nutr. 2002 Jun;21(3 Suppl):212S-217S. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2002.10719268. PMID: 12071307.
[x] Khalid F, Tahir R, Ellahi M, Amir N, Rizvi SFA, Hasnain A. Emerging trends of edible vaccine therapy for combating human diseases especially COVID-19: Pros, cons, and future challenges. Phytother Res. 2022 Jul;36(7):2746-2766. doi: 10.1002/ptr.7475. Epub 2022 May 2. PMID: 35499291; PMCID: PMC9347755.
[xi] https://aviagen.com/assets/Tech_Center/AA_Technical_Articles/AAServiceBulletinDrinkingWaterVaccination.pdf
[xii] Duch MC, Budinger GR, Liang YT, Soberanes S, Urich D, Chiarella SE, et al. Minimizing oxidation and stable nanoscale dispersion improves the biocompatibility of graphene in the lung. Nano Lett. 2011;11(12):5201–7.
[xiii] Ou, L., Song, B., Liang, H. et al. Toxicity of graphene-family nanoparticles: a general review of the origins and mechanisms. Part Fibre Toxicol 13, 57 (2016).
[xiv] https://www.mdanderson.org/cancerwise/t-cells–b-cells-and-the-immune-system.h00-159465579.html
[xv] Lategan K, Alghadi H, Bayati M, de Cortalezzi MF, Pool E. Effects of Graphene Oxide Nanoparticles on the Immune System Biomarkers Produced by RAW 264.7 and Human Whole Blood Cell Cultures. Nanomaterials (Basel). 2018 Feb 24;8(2):125. doi: 10.3390/nano8020125. PMID: 29495255; PMCID: PMC5853756.
[xvi] https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/biomarker#:~:text=(BY%2Doh%2DMAR%2D,molecular%20marker%20and%20signature%20molecule.
[xvii] Komal Rana, Harjot Kaur, Nirankar Singh, Thandiwe Sithole, Samarjeet Singh Siwal, Graphene-based materials: Unravelling its impact in wastewater treatment for sustainable environments, Next Materials,Volume 3,2024,100107,ISSN 2949-8228
[xviii] Malhotra N, Villaflores OB, Audira G, Siregar P, Lee JS, Ger TR, Hsiao CD. Toxicity Studies on Graphene-Based Nanomaterials in Aquatic Organisms: Current Understanding. Molecules. 2020 Aug 9;25(16):3618. doi: 10.3390/molecules25163618. PMID: 32784859; PMCID: PMC7465277.
[xix] Shams M., Watts R., Chowdhury I., NANOMATERIALS IN THE AQUATIC ENVIRONMENT Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164, USA
[xx] Andrews, J.P.M., Joshi, S.S., Tzolos, E. et al. First-in-human controlled inhalation of thin graphene oxide nanosheets to study acute cardiorespiratory responses. Nat. Nanotechnol. (2024). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41565-023-01572-3
[xxi] Seyed Alian, Reyhaneh & Flasz, Barbara & Kedziorski, Andrzej & Majchrzycki, Łukasz & Augustyniak, Maria. (2024). Concentration- and Time-Dependent Dietary Exposure to Graphene Oxide and Silver Nanoparticles: Effects on Food Consumption and Assimilation, Digestive Enzyme Activities, and Body Mass in Acheta domesticus. Insects. 15. 89. 10.3390/insects15020089.