The move to Bioprocessing 4.0 depends heavily on advancing sensor technology. Only then can one accurately monitor and control biochemical reactions occurring in living cells. At the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), Govind Rao, PhD, professor of chemical, biochemical, and environmental engineering, and director of the center for advanced sensor technology (CAST), and his colleagues develop new sensors that help bioprocessors move from batch to continuous processing. One of the key elements to monitor is oxygen.

“Oxygen is the critical metabolic requirement for aerobic cells in culture  and is the hardest to supply to cells due to its low solubility,” Rao explained. “Consequently, monitoring its presence is critical.”

Optical sensors offer promise in this area for oxygen and more. When asked about the most important recent advance in optical sensors that can be used in bioprocessing, Rao said that it’s “the ability to monitor multiple parameters in a non-invasive manner.”

Although research on optical sensors plays a fundamental role in their development, bioprocessors look for technology that can go into manufacturing facilities. That’s just what Rao develops. “All our sensors are designed for commercial application and in fact several are on the market,” he said.

As an example, some of his technology can be found in the ID Fiber Optic Kit from Scientific Bioprocessing Inc (SBI). According to this product’s description, it can be combined with “minimally invasive, single-use accessories to collect real-time pH and dissolved oxygen measurements, making your cell culture and biomanufacturing process more efficient, reliable, and reproducible.”

Technology like that can be used from development through manufacturing in bioprocessing. Optical sensors like these will play fundamental roles in moving to Bioprocessing 4.0. Without the ability to track various parameters in continuous processing accurately and noninvasively, bioprocessors cannot make the next steps that are necessary in the evolution of the processes. Rao and his team are making that possible with optical-based sensors.