Bioreactors Drive Advances in Tissue Engineering
- February 2012.
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- It was an unlikely moment for inspiration. Engineers David Wolf and Ray Schwarz stopped by their lab around midday. Wolf, of Johnson Space Center, and Schwarz, with NASA contractor Krug Life Sciences (now Wyle Laboratories Inc.), were part of a team tasked with developing a unique technology with the potential to enhance medical research. But that wasn t the focus at the moment: The pair was rounding up colleagues interested in grabbing some lunch. One of the lab s other Krug engineers, Tinh Trinh, was doing something that made Wolf forget about food. Trinh was toying with an electric drill. He had stuck the barrel of a syringe on the bit; it spun with a high-pitched whirr when he squeezed the drill s trigger. At the time, a multidisciplinary team of engineers and biologists including Wolf, Schwarz, Trinh, and project manager Charles D. Anderson, who formerly led the recovery of the Apollo capsules after splashdown and now worked for Krug was pursuing the development of a technology called a bioreactor, a cylindrical device used to culture human cells. The team s immediate goal was to grow human kidney cells to produce erythropoietin, a hormone that regulates red blood cell production and can be used to treat anemia. But there was a major barrier to the technology s success: Moving the liquid growth media to keep it from stagnating resulted in turbulent conditions that damaged the delicate cells, causing them to quickly die. The team was looking forward to testing the bioreactor in space, hoping the device would perform more effectively in microgravity. But on January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart shortly after launch, killing its seven crewmembers. The subsequent grounding of the shuttle fleet had left researchers with no access to space, and thus no way to study the effects of microgravity on human cells. As Wolf looked from Trinh s syringe-capped drill to where the bioreactor sat on a workbench, he suddenly saw a possible solution to both problems. It dawned on me that rotating the wall of the reactor would solve one of our fundamental fluid mechanical problems, specifically by removing the velocity gradient of the tissue culture fluid media near the reactor s walls, says Wolf. It looked as though it would allow us to suspend the growing cells within the reactor without introducing turbulent fluid mechanical conditions.
- Other Subject(s):
- NASA Technical Reports Server (NTRS) Collection.
- Document ID: 20120001891.
Spinoff 2011; 50-53; NASA/NP-2011-11-780-HQ.
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