Brown University researchers developed a simple method of creating environments on which to culture cells using graphene, that relies on a technique that makes small wrinkles in graphene sheets. These textured surfaces for culturing cells in the lab manage to copy the intricate environment in which cells grow in the body.

Cell culture is usually done in the lab in petri dishes and on other flat surfaces. The body, however, creates much more complex environments for cells to grow. Research has shown that a cell’s physical surroundings can influence its shape, physiology, and even the expression of its genes, so scientists are looking for ways of culturing cells in lab conditions that are a bit more complex and close to body-made environments. The surfaces might also be used to test drugs in the lab, or perhaps as biomimetic surfaces for implantable tissue scaffolds or neural implants.To make these textured surfaces, the researchers used graphene oxide dispersed in a solution that was placed onto a substrate made from a rubber-like silicon material. Prior to applying the graphene, tension is applied to the substrate to stretch it out like a rubber band. When the graphene dries, the tension is released and the substrate snaps back to its normal size. When that happens, tiny wrinkles (ridges just a few microns high and spaced a few microns apart) form in the graphene layer on the substrate.

The size of the wrinkles can also be controlled by the concentration of the graphene solution and the extent of the substrate stretching. A more concentrated solution increases the spacing between the wrinkle ridges. More stretching increases the height of the wrinkles. After wrinkling the surfaces, the next step was to see whether those wrinkles influenced the growth of cells cultured on the surfaces. They found that in the wrinkled graphene, cells were elongated and highly aligned along the wrinkles while flat graphene grew disorganized and multipolar cells.