Researchers at University of California, Irvine (UCI), along with collaborators at Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania, have created a graphene-based electronic method of monitoring changes in the cell’s mitochondria that could indicate the start of the cell’s self-annihilation process that may open the door to new ways of treating and destroying cancer cells.
The mitochondria, known as the cells’ power plants, metabolize energy from carbohydrates and fats to create energy that the cells can use and store it as voltage across their surfaces. Their secondary role, however, is regulating a cell’s life-death pathway. The researchers attached about 10,000 purified mitochondria, separated from their cells, to a graphene sensor via antibodies capable of recognizing a protein in their outer membranes. The graphene’s qualities allowed it to function as a dual-mode sensor; its electrical sensitivity let researchers gauge fluctuations in the acidity levels surrounding the mitochondria, while its optical transparency enabled the use of fluorescent dyes for the staining and visualization of voltage across the inner mitochondrial membranes.