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Home > Nanotechnology Columns > UAlbany College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering > The Application of Nanotechnology in Stem Cell Research

Yubing Xie
CNSE Assistant Professor of Nanobioscience
College of Nanoscale Science & Engineering

Abstract:
Nanotechnology and stem cells are two of the most promising research areas. Stem cell nanotechnology refers to the application of nanotechnology in stem cell research. The marriage of nanotechnology and stem cells will dramatically advance our ability to understand and control stem cell-fate decisions and develop novel stem cell technologies, which will eventually lead to stem cell-based therapeutics for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of human diseases.

January 22nd, 2008

The Application of Nanotechnology in Stem Cell Research

Nanotechnology and stem cells are two of the most promising research areas. Stem cell nanotechnology refers to the application of nanotechnology in stem cell research. The marriage of nanotechnology and stem cells will dramatically advance our ability to understand and control stem cell-fate decisions and develop novel stem cell technologies, which will eventually lead to stem cell-based therapeutics for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of human diseases.

To better understand stem cell nanotechnology as a research field, it is necessary to review the current research topics in the field of study. Generally, these research topics in the application of nanotechnology for stem cell research can be divided into stem cell microenvironment, stem cell transfection, isolation and sorting, tissue engineering, tracking and imaging, and molecular detection. The topics listed below are the representative research areas that are being studied at major research institutions, including the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE) of the University at Albany.

Nanoengineering Stem Cell Microenvironment to Study Stem Cell-Fate Decisions
Stem cell maintenance and differentiation are governed by the unique local microenvironment, the so-called stem cell niche. Secreted factors, stem cell - neighboring cell interactions, extracellular matrix (ECM) and mechanical properties collectively make up the stem cell microenvironment. A key challenge in stem cell microenvironment research is to develop an in vitro system that accurately recapitulates functions of the in vivo microenvironment. Nanotechnology can be utilized to create in vivo-like stem cell microenvironment to determine mechanisms underlying the conversion of an undifferentiated cells into different cell types. Examples are as follows.
- Micro/nanopatterned surface to study stem cell response to topography
- Micro/nanoscale mechanical study
- Nanoparticles to control release growth factors and biochemicals
- Nanofibers to mimic extracellular matrix (ECM)
- Nanoliter-scale synthesis of arrayed biomaterials
- Self-assembly peptide system to mimic signal clusters of stem cells
- Lab-on-a-chip with nano reservoir to study environmental cues
- Nanowires to study intra- and intercellular biological processes
- Laser fabricated nanogrooves to study cell-cell interactions
- Nanophase thin film to study cell adhesion and proliferation

Stem Cell Transfection
Gene delivery is essential for genetic manipulation in stem cells. Efficient gene delivery to stem cells is required for studies of gene function, control of stem cell differentiation, cellular labeling and purification, and cellular secretion of therapeutic drugs. Because of safety issues, non-viral gene delivery to stem cells (so called stem cell transfection) is highly sought. A key challenge in stem cell transfection is to deliver genes to stem cells with high efficiency and low cytotoxicity. Efficient stem cell transfection is the key to achieving the full potential of stem cells. Nanotechnology provides invaluable tools for stem cell transfection. For example,
- Nanoparticles for in vivo gene delivery
- Nanoneedle for gene delivery to stem cells
- Self-assembly peptide system for stem cell transfection
- Nanowires for gene delivery to stem cells
- Micro/nanofluidic devices for stem cell electroporation

Stem Cell Isolation and Sorting
Stem cells have great potential as unlimited cell sources to treat human diseases. A key challenge in stem cell therapy is to isolate stem cells from a multi-type cell mixture in a low cost, fast and easy to operate fashion. Magnetic or fluorescent nanoparticles can be used to label stem cells followed by magnetic force or flow cytometry sorting.
- Functionalized magnetic nanoparticles for stem cell isolation and expansion, stem cell sorting and separation, etc
- Fluorophore nanoparticles for stem cell sorting

Stem Cell Tissue Engineering
The combination of stem cells with tissue engineering principles enables developing the stem cell-based therapeutic strategy to human diseases. Various micro-/nanofabrication technologies have been introduce to guide stem cells to develop into three-dimensional tissue constructs. For example, nanofibers are able to provide an in vivo-like extracellular scaffolding to promote regeneration of specific tissues. Nanopatterned or nanostructured scaffolds are designed to trigger stem cells to become specific cell types compromising the tissues and organs in the body.
- Nanofibers for nerve regeneration, vascular grafts, bone tissue engineering, etc.
- Nanopatterned hydrogel and micro/nano structured scaffolds for tissue engineering
- Magnetic nanoparticles for magnetic force-based tissue engineering
- Nanocomposites for bone tissue engineering
- Self-assembly peptide system for tissue engineering
- Micro/nanoencapsulation for cell therapy

Stem Cell Tracking and Imaging
To better understand stem cell biology and realize the full potential of stem cell therapy, it is essential to monitor the trafficking of labeled stem cells by molecular and cellular imaging. Nanotechnology enables labeling stem cells using magnetic, genetic or fluorescent probes which can be monitored by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or fluorescence imaging. For example,
- Superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles for stem cell labeling, MRI tracking and detection of transplanted stem cells, and diagnostics
- Quantum dots for stem cell tracking
- Fluorophore nanocrastal for stem cell imaging
- Nanoprobes for stem cell detection and electrophysiological application
- Nanotube for stem cell near-IR fluorescence and Raman scattering imaging
- Photothermal nanospectroscopy to identify stem cell in the body

Molecular Detection and Biosensors
In addition to detect labeled stem cells, it is of paramount importance to detect particular molecules in the stem cell pathway at the cellular level. Nanotechnology provides advanced probes and devices for molecular detection. For example,
- Carbon nanotube optical probes for single molecule detection in living cells
- Carbon nanotube nanoelectrode array for deep brain stimulation
- Nanosphere for neurochemical detection and biosensors
- Nanowires for molecular detection in stem cells
- Self-assembly polymeric micelle-based bioassay
- Nanoarrays in mass spectrometry for proteomic and metabolomic applications
- Nanofluidic device for single cell genomic analysis on a chip

This survey of research topics in stem cell nanotechnology will allow nano-experts to identify challenges and opportunities where nanoscience and nanotechnology can be utilized to advance stem cell research. Although stem cell nanotechnology is still in its infancy, this exciting frontier will definitely accelerate the discovery in stem cells and the development of better stem cell technology.

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