A research group has developed a thin-film sensor and electronics package to measure real-time culture conditions inside a single-use bioreactor. The sensors, which use soft materials, flexible mechanics, and wireless electronics, are designed to measure pH, dissolved oxygen, glucose, and temperature in real time.

“Existing bioreactors have sensors for pH, oxygen, and so on, but they’re made of rigid materials and only measure at one point location–with a needle poking the bag,” explains Hong Yeo, PhD, Associate Professor at the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering and Director of Center for Human-Centric Interfaces and Engineering (HCIE) at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

In contrast, the thin-film sensor package has multiple sensors on the surface of the bag and is designed to be very flexible, notes Yeo. This allows the cell culture to be well mixed because the nanomembrane sensor doesn’t interrupt the motion of the bag.

“The beauty of this sensor system compared to existing sensors is that you have spatial information from multiple locations, giving a better understanding of the real-time processes in the culture,” he explains.

His team has already developed wireless electronics to provide real-time continuous data via tablets, smartphones or even laptops, says Yeo, adding that “We’ve already proved that our sensor system can continuously monitor culture conditions over seven days, and we are trying to expand it to multiple weeks.”

According to Yeo, the benefits of his system are that it can be easily integrated into existing bioreactor systems. “So, technically, companies or researchers using bioreactors can just add our sensor system as an accessory instead of replacing existing ones.”

The sensors could also be integrated into a single-use bag, he continues, along with an integrated wireless system. This would allow the bag to be plugged straight into a bioreactor for continuous, real-time monitoring, he explains.

Yeo is presenting his research on September 23rd at Cell & Gene Therapy Manufacturing & Commercialization US.