New stem cell biosensor could offer better sensitivity

Written by Alexander Marshall

A new biosensor for stem cells has been designed, which offers improved accuracy and reliability.

A team of researchers from Rutgers University (NJ, USA) has led production of a new biosensor, which they hope will allow the characterization of stem cells on a finer level than previously possible. The new platform is said to offer increased reliability and accuracy, and it is hoped that it will allow researchers to define the molecular changes within neural stem cells during differentiation to better mimic the process in vitro for the treatment of neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and spinal cord injuries. 

The new platform, developed by Ki-Bum Lee (Rutgers University), has been created from a graphene-coated, gold nanoarray and utilizes both its electromagnetic and chemical composition to increase the accuracy of the signal measured when analyzing expression levels.  

“        A critical challenge is ensuring high sensitivity and accuracy in detecting biomarkers — indicators such as modified genes or proteins — within the complex stem cell microenvironment,” explained Professor Ki-Bum Lee. “Our technology, which took 4 years to develop, has demonstrated great potential for analyzing a variety of interactions in stem cells.” 

Lee produced highly homogenous nanostructures within the gold through laser interference lithography, before applying an ultrathin coating of graphene. In their paper, published in Nano Letters, the team then demonstrated that the array was able to amplify the signals produced and increase the sensitivity of detection.  

‘Surface-enhanced ramen scattering’ — the technique which is utilized by the array — is an established technique for nanoarrays; however, this method has had issues when used on genes expressed at low levels due to poor sensitivity. It is the researchers’ hope that this new technique will overcome those hurdles and allow the rapid and accurate quantification of expression levels, even for poorly expressed genes. 

While developed for work with neural stem cells, the team believe a range of applications may be possible, including characterizing a wide range of stem cells for conditions as varied as macular degeneration, heart disease and diabetes.   

Sources: Yang L, Lee JH, Rathnam C, Hou Y, Choi JW, Lee KB. Dual-Enhanced Raman Scattering-Based Characterization of Stem Cell Differentiation Using Graphene-Plasmonic Hybrid Nanoarray.. Nano Lett. doi:10.1021/acs.nanolett.9b03402 (2019) (Epub ahead of print);  

Have any additional questions about this story? Ask us in the comments, below.

Find out more in these top picks from the Editor: