Picking the Right Stem Cell With Gold Nanoparticles

Sumeet Mahajan and his laboratory at the University of Southampton has collaborated with researchers from Cambridge University to use gold nanoparticles to identify different types of stem cells in the body.

For stem cell therapies to work, clinicians must be able to identify the right stem cells population to repair damaged tissues and organs. This identification process is typically very invasive and often leaves the cells dead or damaged. For example, the use of fluorescent probes to tag and track individual cells is very powerful but quite harmful to cells.

Mahajan has been investigating the use of Surface Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy or SERS to examine cells on a molecular level and distinguish adult stem cells from other cells without damaging them.

If a metal surface is roughened, and detectable molecules are placed on it, the signal those detectable molecules provide is enhanced by almost a million fold. This enhanced signal allows for the detection of very small quantities, and even though SERS has been used in several different industries, this is the first time it has been used in therapeutics.

Mahajan has been thinking about treating bone marrow preparations with gold nanoparticles in order to distinguish the stem cells from all the other cells. Such a technique would allow for the transplantation of only the stem cells and not other material that might not help the patient.

Also, scientist studying neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease must transplant dopamine-using neurons. Therefore, identifying specific types of dopaminergic cells is essential for efficacious treatments for Parkinson’s disease.

Additionally, researchers are also thinking about using Mahajan’s technique to test the efficacy of particular drugs and diagnose particular diseases. If specific cell types affected by particular diseases (e.g., diabetes, cirrhosis, etc.) could be safely identified and then tested, diagnosis might become much faster.

Mahajan is collaborating with major pharmaceutical companies to further develop more effective drugs with his SERS technique.