Researchers at The University of Queensland have developed a credit card sized device that enables cells to be cultured under thousands of different conditions simultaneously speeding up drug screening.

The high density microbioreactor array developed at UQ's Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology provides for rapid screening and determination of the best conditions for growth and differentiation of induced human pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) into diverse cell types.

Project leader Professor Justin Cooper-White said the technology significantly improves the amount of time it takes to conduct experiments, and is cheaper to operate.

"The high density microbioreactor array allows us to run 8,100 experiments at one time, which would ordinarily take three-to-six months using standard experimental protocols," Professor Cooper-White said.

"It has allowed us to optimise media formulations for a range of iPSC differentiation outcomes including cardiac, bone, kidney, muscle, and we’re applying it to a multitude of other differentiation end points."

Professor Cooper-White said the approach, which has already been validated at laboratories in University College London and A*STAR in Singapore, also provides a substantial economic benefit.

"In bioprocess development for cell therapies, one of the biggest costs is cell culture media, and this device can be used to cut down that cost which enhances the biological outcome substantially," he said.

"Rather than doing one test at a time, we can survey thousands of different environments and rapidly understand how cells respond to drug agents. We have shown that the high density microbioreactor array can rapidly zero-in on optimum conditions for cell expansion or differentiation, with savings of at least 10- to 500-fold."

The smart device was designed from onset to be used with all standard cell biology or molecular biology techniques or tools such as microscopy, confocal and super resolution. The team is now further developing the technology to make it to be compatible with existing laboratory systems and giving it ‘plug and play’ capabilities.

Dr Drew Titmarsh, lead author of a recent paper published on the device in Nature Scientific Reports, said the high density microbioreactor array is superior to existing products in the market.

"The current best product on the market provides individual inputs and culture chambers for drug solutions, which must be made manually," Dr Titmarsh said.

"However, this design takes care of all the manual dilution and mixing on-board the chip, and allows us to generate a whole spectrum of conditions and run them in 8,100 experimental chambers in parallel.

The project is being carried out in collaboration with researchers from the Laboratory for Cardiac Regeneration at UQ’s School of Biomedical Sciences, led by Dr Enzo Porrello and Dr James Hudson.

Professor Cooper-White is now seeking support to commercialise the product and this breakthrough screening technology to world as a whole.

AIBN's unique combination of scientists and engineers focusses efforts towards research that produces positive health and environmental outcomes, including biomedical delivery, bio-devices, tissue regeneration, and cell therapies.

Media: Darius Koreis, d.koreis@uq.edu.au, +61 7 3346 3962, +61 427 148 187; Professor Justin-Cooper-White, j.cooperwhite@uq.edu.au, +61 7 3346 3858.

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