Creating an Oxygen-Controlling Cell Culture (OCC) System

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a $250K Partnerships for Innovation – Technology Translation (PFI-TT) grant to ChE Assistant Professor Sidi A. Bencherif for “Cell Culture System with Enzyme-based Control of Oxygen Concentration to Enhance Biomedical Research”. The team includes graduate student Zachary Rogers, CEO of Cryoxia Biosciences, and technology commercialization expert/consultant Dr. James Sherley, CEO of Asymmetrex.

In the proposed project, the Bencherif Lab will develop an Oxygen-Controlling Cell Culture (OCC) system, an enzyme-based approach adaptable to standard vessels used routinely in cell culture. The project includes an entrepreneurial education and leadership development plan for graduate student Zachary Rogers that will include prototyping/optimizing the OCC system and customer discovery activities, mentorship from experienced entrepreneurs in biotechnology and physiologic/hypoxic cell culture, and innovation and entrepreneurship activities. The project activities will also support graduate student Zachary Rogers and provide research opportunities for undergraduate students from diverse groups.

Main photo: Prof. S.A. Bencherif (Left), Z. Rogers (Middle), Dr. J. Sherley (Right)

Abstract Source: NSF

The broader impact/commercial potential of this PFI-TT project is to enhance biomedical research by controlling oxygen in cell culture. Cell culture, in which scientists attempt to grow cells in conditions like those in the body, is one of the most useful techniques in biomedical research. However, oxygen, a critical factor for cell behavior and physiology, is not controlled during standard cell cultures. In fact, cells in laboratory cell culture experience up to 50-fold higher oxygen concentrations than they do in the body. By changing the status quo of cell culture from non-oxygen-controlled to oxygen-controlled, the proposed technology can advance the scientific understanding of oxygen’s role in disease development, biological processes, and human tissues. In addition, the technology can improve human health by (i) fueling the discovery of new drugs and drug targets, (ii) improving the accuracy of the drug screening process, reducing the attrition rate, cost and time spent on failed drugs, and (iii) accelerating the commercialization of cell-based therapies for cancer treatment and regenerative medicine.

The proposed project will develop the Oxygen-Controlling Cell Culture (OCC) system, an enzyme-based approach adaptable to the vessels already in use for cell culture. Unlike current oxygen-controlling products that function by reducing oxygen in the gas phase surrounding cell culture vessels, the OCC system takes an innovative approach by harnessing enzymes to locally control oxygen concentration directly in the cellular environment. This approach improves data accuracy, consistency, and reproducibility. The OCC system will be developed by testing a number of strategies to chemically attach enzymes to cell culture vessels. The oxygen concentration will be tuned to specific values by controlling the enzymatic depletion rates and oxygen transfer rates within the vessels. System performance will be validated by examining the impact on stem cells and cancer cell behavior and physiology. Through this proposal, it is anticipated that an OCC system prototype will be ready for the next stage of commercialization.

This award reflects NSF’s statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation’s intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Related Departments:Bioengineering, Chemical Engineering