Researchers produce a method which allows for living cells to be tracked in real-time

Service Engineering

Saudi Arabian researchers from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, led by Jürgen Kosel, have produced a method which could allow for the movement and location of living cells to be non-invasively tracked in real-time.

The method utilises magnetic core-shell iron nanowires as nontoxic contrast agents, which can be implemented into living cells. Once they have been scanned with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the cells’ position, inside a living organism, will illuminate. The method could have purposes varying from tracking live-cell medical treatments such as stem cell therapies, to studying and treating cancer.

“Researchers produce a method which allows for living cells to be tracked in real-time.“

The team outlined that the core-shell iron nanowires could destroy cancer cells with a combination attack, puncturing the cells’ membrane and releasing heat into it, while delivering an anticancer drug into target cells. Researchers in Spain have also revealed that the same type of iron core can be used for non-invasive medical imaging - results are published in the Nanobiotechnology journal.

The nanowires are said to have worked well as MRI contrast agents even at low concentrations, and the magnetic response could be tuned by altering the thickness of the nanowire shell. Biocompatibility of the nanowire also provided for the long-term monitoring of the live cells.

PhD student in Kosel’s team, Aldo Martinez-Banderas, stated: “Cell labelling and tracking has become an invaluable tool for scientific and clinical applications. One of the key aspects of cell tracking studies is the sensitivity to detect a small number of cells after implantation, so the strong magnetisation and biocompatibility of our nanowires are advantageous characteristics for MRI tracking. The nanowires interacted with cells without compromising their survival, functionality or capacity to proliferate. The strong magnetisation of the nanowires enabled the detection of approximately ten labelled cells within the brain of a mouse for a period of at least forty days, which allowed us to trace their exact location and fate in the animal.”

Kosel stated: “These core shell nanowires have various additional features, including the ability to control them magnetically to guide them to a particular location to carry drugs or be too heated with a laser. Combining all of that with the capability of tracking creates a theranostic platform that can open the door for very promising new approaches in nanomedicine.”

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