Gold nanoparticle-decorated carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are used to study intracellular environments in situ using surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS). CNTs are decorated with gold nanoparticles and assembled onto the tips of pulled glass capillaries to form a SERS-enabled endoscope. The sub-micrometer size and high mechanical strength of the endoscope make it possible to penetrate the cell membrane for intracellular probing and remain positioned inside during lengthy SERS measurements without causing damage to the cell. Using the SERS-enabled endoscope, DNA and other biomolecules are detected in situ within the nucleus of a single human cervical carcinoma cell in a minimally invasive manner. The SERS-enabled endoscopes exhibit high selectivity and sensitivity for detecting trace amounts of analytes (≈1 pM) in biofluid environments, highlighting their capabilities as label-free, biological sensors for real-time in situ cellular diagnostics, biological detection, and pharmaceutical research.
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