These devices are designed to simulate a natural biochemical setting for tissues or cell growth in microbial or cell cultures and are commonly used in upstream bioprocessing, fundamental research, and industrial processes. Growth and cultivation is accomplished by providing a biologically controlled environment where pH, temperature, oxygen levels, and moisture are all tunable, allowing researchers to create the optimal environment for specific cell culture.
Some of the most critical environmental conditions controlled include aeration, agitation, nutrient, and pH, as cells are susceptible to these conditions. For this reason, one of the most critical bioreactor functions is to provide dissolved oxygen to cells continuously (aeration).
These controlled environments can facilitate anaerobic or aerobic chemical processes involving organisms directly or biochemically active substances from such organisms.
Standalone bioreactors and systems can either be closed or open and are found in the biotech, pharmaceutical, and chemical industries. They are commonly used to manufacture pharmaceuticals, biopharmaceuticals, vaccines, and more.
Furthermore, the increasing demand for biopharmaceuticals, vaccines, and antibody therapies has led to advanced process strategies that overcome traditional batch cultivation limitations and provide scientists with high cell density cultivation methods using modern bioreactors.
Models come in a range of sizes depending on their uses, from benchtop units to industrial-sized systems, as well as several operation types, including:
Bioreactors and bioreactor systems are helpful outside of the life sciences, as well. They are employed in biomass production, making the production of organic material such as algae, animal cells, and single-cell proteins much more efficient. They can form metabolites like ethanol, pigments, and organic acids. And lastly, they are useful in biochemical engineering, specifically for tissue growth, proving themselves useful in the emerging field of 3D tissue engineering.
Bioreactor cell culture system functionality depends on several factors. Below, we’ll cover some of these types and their benefits. Many of the models available today come with real-time integrated monitoring and advanced analytics that can enable automation.
Photobioreactors are involved in the use of light in the cultivation of phototrophic microorganisms. Examples include algae, moss, and cyanobacteria.
PBRs offer an artificial environment that encourages a much higher growth rate and provides higher purity samples than natural ones.
Though PBRs can be typified as either open or closed systems, closed systems are the overwhelmingly common choice.
Continuously Stirred-Tank bioreactors create a controlled, homogenous environment by having their contents constantly moving through the use of agitators.
In addition to the standard environmental controls that bioreactors offer, CSTRs, or continuous-flow stirred tanks, also allow for the culture medium’s flow to be defined depending on the application. Common CSTRs include chemostats, turbidostats, and auxostats.
These devices utilize a liquid cylinder (or liquid-solid suspension) and introduce gas through the bottom of the cylinder. The contents are mixed by having the gas bubble through the liquid in a process known as sparging or gas flushing.
This pneumatic mixed reaction can be used to produce enzymes and proteins or chemical reactions such as wet oxidation.
A packed bed, in chemical processing, refers to exactly what you would expect, a hollow, empty container that is filled with packing material. This methodology is used to encourage better contact between two samples in different phases. Packed bed bioreactors are tubular and are filled with microbial cells or immobilized enzymes as a catalyst.
As the sample passes through the catalyst, it reacts, causing the substance’s chemical composition to change. A significant advantage of packed bed bioreactors compared to other types is their high conversion rate per catalyst weight.
Chemical reactors that use membranes to perform their functions are usually used to refer to as membrane bioreactors. They add reactants or remove products from reactions through both membrane separation and chemical conversion processes.
The two types of MBRs are internal or submerged and external or sidestream.
Internal MBRs involve having the membrane installed inside the bioreactor. In external MBRs, the filtration elements are found outside of the reactor.
Single-use bioreactors, equipped with a disposable bag made of multiple layers of polymer that serve different functions, were introduced into the biopharmaceuticals market around 25 years ago and have become widely accepted as an alternative to stainless steel or glass bioreactors.
The benefits they provide to process development and clinical manufacturing are significant. Given its many benefits, single-use bioreactors are increasingly used for small-scale, mid-scale, and large-scale production runs.
Traditional multiple-use bioreactors typically require cleaning after each cell culture run, while smaller-scale systems are made of glass and can be sterilized in an autoclave. Larger bioreactor systems are generally stainless-steel and require additional plumbed-in systems for sterilization, such as cleaning in place and steaming in place.
Bioreactors are essential devices in biochemical engineering, with a vast range of applications in today’s market. Algae biofuel and wastewater treatment are some of the largest and most innovative applications of bioreactors, in addition to the successful use of these devices in bioengineered tissues.
The applications of such tissue cultures are as interesting as they are numerous. Still, one of the most fascinating would have to be the possibility of “growing” replacement tissues and, eventually, replacement organs.
Tufts University was able to partially regrow the amputated limb of a frog using a wearable bioreactor to encourage cell regeneration. The University of Texas Medical Branch is using bioreactors to try to make an artificial lung.
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