Stem cells hold a great deal of promise in treating a huge variety of human diseases. Although much hyped to the general public some years ago, it turned out to be very difficult to safely use stem cells to generate replacement tissues without inadvertently introducing tumors or other maladies. Knowing how stem cells differentiate, and whether they turn into healthy cells, is key to overcoming a major hurdle for stem cell therapies. Now, a team at Rutgers University has developed a platform and accompanying imaging technology that can accurately monitor stem cell differentiation like never before.
The team created a device consisting of gold nanoarrays coated with a layer of graphene, a single atom layer of carbon. Stem cells differentiating on the platform can be monitored using an imaging technique called dual-enhanced Raman scattering, which lets the researchers monitor the RNA molecules involved in various cell processes.
The Rutgers team monitored how stem cells differentiated into a type of neuronal cell and looked for gene expression of a specific biomarker, called TuJ1, that points to the successful differentiation of the cells.
From the study abstract in journal Nano Letters:
Herein, we demonstrate an innovative sensing platform, using graphene-coated homogeneous plasmonic metal (Au) nanoarrays, which synergize both electromagnetic mechanism (EM)- and chemical mechanism (CM)-based enhancement. Through the homogeneous plasmonic nanostructures, generated by laser interference lithography (LIL), highly reproducible enhancement of Raman signals could be obtained via a strong and uniform EM. Additionally, the graphene-functionalized surface simultaneously amplifies the Raman signals by an optimized CM, which aligns the energy level of the graphene oxide with the target molecule by tuning its oxidation levels, consequently increasing the sensitivity and accuracy of our sensing system.