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New Tracking Technique Boosts Stem Cell Survival

While stem cells show great promise for treating many medical conditions, tracking their migration and survival following transplantation in the body has been difficult. Scientists currently rely on miniscule superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles (SPIONs) to label the cells before they are administered to the patient. This enables the particles to picked up by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans and helps establish whether the cells reach their intended target.

Conditions within the body, however, can lead to the degradation of SPIONs and reduce the ability of MRI scans to pick up on their signal in the long-term.

But in a new study published in the current issue of ACS Nano, the UL scientists detail how they are using a photothermal technique to visualize SPIONs in the cells before they enter the body. They say this technique improves SPION labeling so that particles survive longer and it has minimal impact on the function of the transplanted cells.

Dr. Lara Bogart, from the university's Institute of Integrative Biology, explained, "If we can't monitor stem cells effectively it can have serious implications for patient health. Studies have already shown that if cells migrate to the circulatory system, beyond their target organ or tissue site, then it can cause inflammation in the body. Labeling stem cells is hugely valuable to tracking their movements in the body, but we need to know more about how the particles used interact with stem cells.

"Using new imaging systems we can work out their precise location in the cell and how they behave over time," she added. "We hope to use this information to improve understanding of the MRI signal that tracks SPIONs once stem cells have been transplanted."

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