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How to ensure a consistent cell expansion process? Don’t start at the end

Cell culture has a culture of measuring endpoints. Vessels used to expand cells (like multi-well plates and flasks) are essentially mystery boxes in the days or weeks of culture. It’s only at the point of cell harvesting that most researchers measure and analyse their cells, which means all the information that they need to know – what goes on inside the vessels during expansion, what effect the environment is having on the cells, is the expansion process consistent – remains an enigma.

One of the issues facing sampling during culture is the size of the vessels. For T-25 flasks or multi-well plates, removing enough cells or medium to give accurate readings will disrupt the culture and substantially affect results. For mid-range vessels like large flasks or bags this is less of a problem, but only sampling once or twice per process operation (as is usually the case) doesn’t accurately reflect cell behavior over time.

The next big issue is the analytical equipment needed. Most labs have flow cytometers, cell counters, microscopes, and PCR machines. But few have more advanced equipment like metabolite analyzers, and on-line, real-time measurement capabilities don’t exist for standard research vessels. Sensors that continuously monitor parameters like pH and dissolved oxygen can be found on (very) expensive automated stir tank bioreactors, but when was the last time you saw a T-75 hooked up to a computer?

To understand cell behavior and ensure a consistent expansion process, measuring the parameters that can affect cells during culture is crucial. Existing indicators like color changing medium may provide rough estimations of metabolite build up in a vessel, but oftentimes metabolites accumulate to detrimental levels way before the medium turns yellow, with cell health and growth being hindered by amino-acid deficiencies. This will only become apparent after weeks of tedious pipetting when the cells are analyzed, and if this happens in the same run, researchers will be left none the wiser about why part of their experiment failed.

A solution to this problem is affordable online measurement tools that are intuitive, account for common problems like calibration and drift, and collect data into central, usable formats. But these don’t currently exist.

At MicrofluidX we’re developing the Cyto Engines™ – automated cell research and manufacturing platforms with online media and cell measurements. We’re working with the best sensor companies in the industry to integrate their technology and making it easy to account for drift and calibration. Data is aggregated and available from any device at any time, and our partnerships with the best visualization and data mining software providers means the Cyto Engines™ give real, valuable insights into cell and process data and maximize the information that each experiment provides.