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Culturing system boosts stem commercialisation prospects

1st April 2013


Last December, Melbourne-based biotechnology company Stem Cell Sciences (SCS) announced that it has opened its new automated stem cell production facility at the Babraham Research Campus in Cambridge, UK.

SCS focuses on the commercialisation of stem cells and stem cell technologies in research and novel cell-based therapies. The new facility is designed to enable the company to grow and supply its stem cell-based drug screens and assays for the world pharmaceutical industry using state-of-the-art robotic cell culture equipment.

Combined with the company’s range of stem cell lines, cell culture media and sophisticated stem cell engineering tools, it now means SCS will be able to supply the right quantity as well as quality of ‘cells in wells’ needed for advanced pharmaceutical R&D.

The company cell lines include embryonic stem cells, neural stem cells that can produce neurons, astrocytes and oligodendrocytes, and hMADS cells (fat derived stem cells) that can produce adipocyte (fat) and osteoblast (bone) cells.

Commenting on the opening of the new facility, SCS’ chairman Dr Michael Dexter said: “The opening of this facility is another step along the way to bringing stem cells from the research bench to industry. Our investment at the Babraham Research Campus gives SCS the capability to supply our stem cell based products to the pharmaceutical industry in reproducible and cost effective ways, and is an exciting step forward in the company’s continuing development.”

The new facility was formally opened Dr Mary Archer, Chair of the East of England Stem Cell Network Steering Group and Chair of Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, who pointed out the advantages of stem cell work such as this: “One of the bottlenecks in drug development is the time it takes to screen candidate drugs for efficacy. The use of stem cell-derived cell lines for screening promises much greater speed and efficiency than current methods, as well as a reduced need for animal testing in pharmaceutical research and development. I am delighted to see SCS introduce this new facility at Babraham.”

In an ongoing effort to improve its rapid provision of high quality stem cells, SCS has just announced the installation of a CompacT SelecT automated cell culture system supplied by The Automation Partnership (TAP), a world-leading manufacturer of innovative industrial automation for life science applications.

The CompacT SelecT at SCS will be used to culture several different human and mouse stem cell lines to supply the world’s top pharmaceutical companies with the right quantity, as well as quality of cells in assay-ready plates.

Compact SelecT is ideal for growing high quality stem cells because it can maintain cells in a consistent environment. The system’s rapid action and flexible robotic arm coupled with its powerful software ensures cells can be processed on demand, (re-fed every few hours if necessary), and left unattended – even at night or over weekends.

CompacT selecT has been designed to provide automated cell culture and assay-ready plating suitable for the medium throughput laboratory and smaller budget. A new generation of more compact robots has allowed TAP to downsize its existing SelecT system and enable the processing of T175 flasks in a space only slightly larger than a standard Class II safety cabinet.

The increasingly important role in drug discovery of cell-based assays necessitates a supply of cells of sufficient quality and quantity not to become a limiting factor in downstream processes. This requires the simultaneous maintenance and processing of many different cell lines ideally seven days a week and at variable scales. CompacT SelecT will automatically manage the whole process from maintaining the cell lines to delivering cells in plates on demand when required for assays.

It utilises the same automated protocols as SelecT (culturing hundreds of thousands of flasks without contamination) to grow and maintain cells from multiple cell lines in T175 flasks in a controlled environment (negative pressure laminar air flow), eliminating all possibility for cross contamination. It counts and checks cell viability before dispensing the cells into plates ready for cell-based screening and assay development.

It can hold up to 130 T 175 flasks in a temperature and carbon dioxide controlled incubator enabling the simultaneous culture of multiple cell lines limited only by the flask capacity and the number of different media available from the ten different pumps. TAP says that virtually any attachment dependant cells can be introduced onto the system without process change and each flask can be processed with its own unique parameters including timings, media and volumes required by each cell type.

Output from the system can be either as a harvested cell suspension or in 96 or 384-well plates ready for assay any day of the week. In addition, it ensures a full audit trail security via bar code tracking of flasks and plates in the system.

Overall, CompacT SelecT automates the expansion and maintenance of multiple cell lines, sub culturing, expanding cell numbers through the seeding of a number of flasks, transient transfection, harvesting and plating of cells for assays and screening, harvesting of cells in flasks for off-line processing, and cell counting and viability measurement. All this, says the company, with continuous unattended operation and a small, 2.75mx1.1m, footprint.

Julie Kerby, business unit manager at SCS explained: “Stem cells are harder to grow than most cell lines so you have to reproduce their optimum growth conditions every time. We are confident the CompacT SelecT can do this because it is based on TAP's SelecT cell culture system, which deservedly has the reputation of being the pharma industry’s gold standard for reliable automated cell culturing.”

Phil Offin, cell culture product manager at TAP added: “We are delighted to have such a major supplier of stem cells invest in a CompacT SelecT. SCS’s astute decision will ensure top pharmas (with a SelecT) now have the flexibility to either obtain SCS’s quality assured cells on time, in their preferred format, or since CompacT SelecT and SelecT share the same sophisticated technology, they can confidently in-licence the cells to grow in house, because transferring proven production protocols will be rapid and reliable.”





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