The historical focus of Dr. Robin Coger's biomedical engineering research has been tissue engineering and cryopreservation. Recently her laboratory has combined lessons learned from each area to engineer a new device for maintaining cells for tissue and organ replacement purposes.
"To our knowledge, this is the first bioreactor engineered with cell storage as a key design criteria " Dr. Coger said. "Using our 4QB bioreactor, one can culture cells or tissue to a desired time point, then cryopreserve all or part of the biological product without dismantling the entire bioreactor. This is key to the 4QB's goal of providing the practitioner with a system that enables cell and tissue targets to be readily available as needed".
Commercial bioreactors are used for several purposes ranging from tissue growth to chemical processing. Cells bioreactors such as the 4QB are widely used for pharmaceutical testing purposes, since they can serve as test systems for evaluating a drug's effect on a large cell population. They also have clinical value for tissue and organ replacement.
While the 4QB bioreactor's unique flexible design makes it possible to use it for a wide array of tissue targets, the specialty area of Coger's research at UNC Charlotte is liver. "Our bioreactor has thus far been used to support liver cells for over two weeks with great success. The 4QB did quite well in supporting live cells able to perform the key functions required for liver replacement applications," Dr. Coger said. The results of that work have been accepted for publication in the journal Tissue Engineering. The article is expected to be in print in the near future.
The device works by loading the target cells into "cryopreservable" cartridges that can be taken in and out of a carrousel type arrangement. When in use, cell support is achieved by pumping a blood equivalent through the 4QB under specified environmental conditions.
"Because we can remove a desired fraction of the 4QB bioreactor's cellular space without compromising the integrity of the device, the state of its cells can be evaluated at various time points, to more fully analyze how well the cells are doing. " Dr. Coger said. "The ability to monitor the bioreactor in this way will ultimately allow adjustments to be made as needed to achieve the cell function levels needed for patient care." Dr. Coger invented the 4QB with a former doctoral student of the Mechanical Engineering & Engineering Science Department, Dr. Mei Niu. A patent on their design is currently pending.
"The 4QB is another example of how solid engineering fundamentals can be applied to produce inventions able to benefit multiple fields. The success of the first prototype of our design was such that we are now in conversation with others excited about the potential of using our 4QB bioreactor in pharmaceutical, clinical, and research applications. It is an exciting time - come back to check on our progress one year from now."