[en] With the fast growth of bioanalytical surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS), analytical methods have had to adapt to the complex nature of biological samples. In particular, interfering species and protein adsorption onto the SERS substrates have been addressed by sample preparation steps, such as precipitation or extraction, and by smart SERS substrate functionalisation. These additional handling steps however result in irreversible sample alteration, which in turn prevents sample monitoring over time.
A new methodology, that enables near real-time, non-invasive and non-destructive SERS monitoring of biological samples, is therefore proposed. It combines solid SERS substrates, benefitting from liquid immersion resistance for extended periods of time, with an original protein filtering device and an on-field detection by means of a handheld Raman analyser. The protein removal device aims at avoiding protein surface fouling on the SERS substrate. It consists of an ultracentrifugation membrane fixed under a cell culture insert for multi-well plates. The inside of the insert is dedicated to containing biological samples. The solid SERS substrate and a simple medium, without any protein, are placed under the insert. By carefully selecting the membrane molecular weight cutoff, selective diffusion of small analytes through the device could be achieved whereas larger proteins were retained inside the insert. Non-invasive SERS spectral acquisition was then carried out through the bottom of the multi-well plate. The diffusion of a SERS probe, 2-mercaptopyridine, and of a neurotransmitter having a less intense SERS signal, serotonin, were first successfully monitored with the device. Then, the latter was applied to distinguish between subclones of cancerous cells through differences in metabolite production.
This promising methodology showed a high level of versatility, together with the capability to reduce cellular stress and contamination hazards.