Visualizing medium and biodistribution in complex cell culture bioreactors using in vivo imaging

There is a dearth of technology and methods to aid process characterization, control and scale-up of complex culture platforms that provide niche micro-environments for some stem cell-based products. We have demonstrated a novel use of 3d in vivo imaging systems to visualize medium flow and cell distribution within a complex culture platform (hollow fiber bioreactor) to aid characterization of potential spatial heterogeneity and identify potential routes of bioreactor failure or sources of variability. This can then aid process characterization and control of such systems with a view to scale-up. Two potential sources of variation were observed with multiple bioreactors repeatedly imaged using two different imaging systems: shortcutting of medium between adjacent inlet and outlet ports with the potential to create medium gradients within the bioreactor, and localization of bioluminescent murine 4T1-luc2 cells upon inoculation with the potential to create variable seeding densities at different points within the cell growth chamber. The ability of the imaging technique to identify these key operational bioreactor characteristics demonstrates an emerging technique in troubleshooting and engineering optimization of bioreactor performance.