Non‐Newtonian rheology in suspension cell cultures significantly impacts bioreactor shear stress quantification
Abstract The fields of regenerative medicine and tissue engineering require large‐scale manufacturing of stem cells for both therapy and recombinant protein production, which is often achieved by culturing cells in stirred suspension bioreactors. The rheology of cell suspensions cultured in stirred suspension bioreactors is critical to cell growth and protein production, as elevated exposure to shear stress has been linked to changes in growth kinetics and genetic expression for many common cell types. Currently, little is understood on the rheology of cell suspensions cultured in stirred suspension bioreactors. In this study, we present the impact of three common cell culture parameters, serum content, cell presence, and culture age, on the rheology of a model cell line cultured in stirred suspension bioreactors. The results reveal that cultures containing cells, serum, or combinations thereof are highly shear thinning, whereas conditioned and unconditioned culture medium without serum are both Newtonian. Non‐Newtonian viscosity was modeled using a Sisko model, which provided insight on structural mechanisms driving the rheological behavior of these cell suspensions. A comparison of shear stress estimated by using Newtonian and Sisko relationships demonstrated that assuming Newtonian viscosity underpredicts both mean and maximum shear stress in stirred suspension bioreactors. Non‐Newtonian viscosity models reported maximum shear stresses exceeding those required to induce changes in genetic expression in common cell types, whereas Newtonian models did not. These findings indicate that traditional shear stress quantification of cell or serum suspensions is inadequate and that shear stress quantification methods based on non‐Newtonian viscosity must be developed to accurately quantify shear stress.
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