How to Efficiently Transport Live Cell Cultures Without Freezing Them

How to Efficiently Transport Live Cell Cultures Without Freezing Them

Ross Harrison first attempted cell culture in the early 1900s. Fast forward 100 years and 3D in-vitro cell culture is routine, and an organ on a chip is a reality. Cells are fundamental to all bodily functions; they encompass a multitude of components with interactions that depend on the cell’s purpose. The awe-inspiring knowledge is they originate from stem cells that differentiate to become a particular cell — i.e., nose, ear, blood, etc. Billions of replications and the body generally works for life spans sometimes eclipsing a century. Years ago, cellular research had to be content with cells on a slide, stained to expose their secrets, and labs had to start from scratch to emulate the procedure.

How are cells transported today?

Today, researchers utilise specific cell lines created by facilities around the globe. Whether novel or challenging to isolate, these specimens are often sought after and must be transported from lab to lab. Shipping is required to accelerate research or to ensure treatment of the precise cell. This need has created a quandary — live cells are photosensitive; they also require 37oC and a 5% CO2 atmosphere. This atmosphere is hard to achieve. Cryopreservation has been the best way to meet such requirements.

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What happens when you freeze cells?

Cryopreservation abates the disadvantages of freezing cells. Most living organisms die when frozen due to cryoinjury, the formation of intracellular crystals when cells are rapidly frozen. Slowing this process unearths further challenges such as extracellular ice formation that cause osmotic stress and mechanical damage. Epigenetic modifications may result from incomplete cryopreservation amongst other batch-to-batch variations. Using an antifreeze such as dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO), a cryoprotective agent, gives rise to other issues – particularly effects on natural cell behaviour.

An entire industry has emerged in culture media with a focus on cell growth, 3D structures such as support for spheroids and organoids, regenerative medicines, cell expansion, and bioprinting. Nanocellulose structures provide exceptional growing conditions by forming a hydrogel that is easily enzymatically cleared to release the cells for clinical use.

As research begins to reject processes that fail to emulate a natural environment, cryopreservation will take a back seat. The procedures and techniques that fail the natural behaviour test reveal that cells being studied are in an altered state, encouraging further scientific scrutiny.

Be prepared to ask yourself questions such as:

  • Are you exposed to foreign genetic material in your media?
  • Have you cryopreserved? 
  • Have you used fluorescent tags in the treatment of these cells?

Variations may be seen as cells are exposed to foreign genetic material or when fluorescently tagged. Whether occurring locally or internationally, the need for a reliable method to transport fragile and valuable cells has led to the development of a portable CO2 incubator.

Can live cells be transported without freezing?

To put it simply, the answer is If cells are simply frozen to ship, their cellular processes become compromised. If a natural route is chosen – such as keeping the cells warm with lots of media to sustain them for their journey – it’s likely they will die due to a lack of CO2 and a disruption to their constant temperature, highly probably for long distance trips. Consider a 10-minute walk across a University campus from the animal house to the lab in an insulated container. On a cold day, mouse embryos may perish. Such is their dependence on precise thermal regulation. Sympathetic to this outcome, the term ‘Live Cell Shipping’ could be categorised as a misnomer.

What are the alternatives to freezing?

You can lob your cells into an esky and cross your fingers, hoping for the best. Some cargo just doesn’t survive a few minutes out of 37oC and 5% CO2. If the journey is long, there is little hope the cells will arrive at their destination alive. The best-known method to transport not only fragile cells but the whole gamut of living tissue is the Cellbox.

The Cellbox is a live-cell shipper, designed by the Fraunhöfer Institute from the ground up to solve the cell-transport conundrum. It is the first portable CO2 incubator intended to transport cells by road, rail, or air. The Cellbox is a significant game-changer. Prepared and packed under UN 3373, you need not defrost biological material; they are ready to go as soon as they arrive. There are no toxic substances added and no freeze-thaw loss, which saves cells and time.

Choosing Cellbox with ATA Scientific

A well considered live cell research plan has accounted for how the cell lines will be transported to the dedicated lab and facilities thereafter

The Cellbox incubator is a technological advancement. With it, you can track the events of the entire journey, then download to your smartphone to correlate the conditions to the cellular activity. This insight is instrumental if you are shipping clinical samples such as blood from the blood bank, embryos, cord blood, cell cultures, and tissue engineering.

To evaluate the Cellbox’s benefits to your facility, call or email ATA Scientific today. This one call may transform your capacity to align your research methods with more natural behaviour. Speak to ATA Scientific for a demo or trial of the Cellbox in your facility.