Cell cultures form the basis of many types of lab research, however growing these cell cultures has always been a time-consuming, laborious job that is largely done by hand.
That is about to change, with the Fraunhofer Institute and Max Planck Institute having developed a machine that completely automates the process of cultivating cells.
From the press release:
The device consists of an array of modules: One of these is a robot that transports the vessels containing the cell cultures, known as multititer plates, from one place to the next. Dr. Albrecht Brandenburg, group manager at IPM describes another module: “A microscope regularly inspects the cells to assess the status and growth of the cultures. It transfers the s.o. plates to the microscope stage, focuses, switches lenses and activates the light sources it needs. The entire optical system is designed to withstand and operate in the high-humidity conditions the cells require. The results of microscopic analysis are fed into the system control, a capability never seen in automated cell cultivation before.“
An example: A computer program assesses the microscope images and checks to determine how densely the surface of the vessel is already covered in cells. If suitable cell colonies have formed, another module, a hollow needle, picks cells ranging between 100 and 200 micrometers in size and transfers them to a new container. System users can train the software responsible for this pattern recognition – and thus for identifying the cells themselves as such: in the case of new cell types, they can define sample areas as foregrounds and backgrounds. In subsequent worksteps, the system then identifies the cell type automatically.
Large enough to fill a small lab, the device was recently set up at the Max Planck Institute. There, it will help researchers decode the functions of various proteins. Scientists inject cells with the segment of the human genome that delivers the blueprint for the proteins under investigation. The location in the cell at which the proteins are later found gives clues as to the proteins` respective functions. The system achieves a throughput of 500 cell cultures each month. The cell factory can be adapted for use in other applications as well: For instance, it can help test the effectiveness of various drugs. Because the system is modular, researchers in science and industry can also opt to automate just certain of the steps involved.
Press release: Cell cultures from a machine…