I first learned about dialysis from a middle school health and biology textbook. I have since learned that this procedure, which saves thousands of lives every year, causes substantial stress and is critically inefficient. In particular, existing sorbent materials are simply not up to the task of removing harmful cytokines and other biological harmful impurities from blood. I recently had the opportunity to not only meet, but share materials and experiences with a group of researchers at the University of Brighton who are working to provide solutions for this exact issue.
So far, my PhD research in Professor Gogotsi’s research group has involved the optimization of surface chemistry of porous carbon materials for energy storage. However, throughout my entire research experience, I have repeatedly learned about efforts to filter harmful contaminants from biological fluids using porous carbons, such as activated carbon, carbide-derived carbons, and graphene. I have since learned that many of the surface functional groups that I was grafting on surfaces to modify supercapacitor performance were also beneficial for selective cytokine removal.
I arrived at the University of Brighton with several samples of carbide-derived carbon nanopowder, graphene aerogels, and graphene nanoplatelets. I was shown the cutting-edge biological and materials facilities that the University of Brighton has available for the NOMAD project. We discussed several strategies for evaluating the biocompatibility of the samples that I brought, along with future work relating to nanodiamonds and carbide materials that a fellow PhD student from Drexel, Amanda Pentecost, is sending for analysis. Ganesh and I ran a mercury intrusion experiment on one of my samples, and our analysis found a previously undiscovered porosity that makes the sample even more promising. Additionally, Yishan showed me the critical steps for biocompatibility assay analysis. These tests are critical to ensure that the carbon materials, or any modifications to their surface chemistry, do not pose cytotoxicity or harmful endocytosis risks. We extensively discussed the properties of materials and various approaches to pore, surface, and filtration setup design that will be used in future research efforts. The experiments were extraordinarily novel and rewarding for me: having limited biological training, I greatly benefited from learning the real-life implications of implementation of carbon nanostructures in blood filtration. I am taking this knowledge to our group to further refine our carbon synthesis and better meet the project’s goals.Outside of the laboratory, I had the pleasure of going on several jogs through the beautiful city of Brighton, and enjoyed a delicious Indonesian dinner with the members of the NOMAD team. It was an extraordinarily rewarding visit for me, and I, along with the Drexel team, hope to similarly host visitors from Brighton in Philadelphia in the near future.