A transport-box that can save lives

24.5.2018

Imagine that a recent pioneering medical weapon, CAR-T cells, makes it possible to award blood-cancer patients with years of life. Imagine further that, in order to obtain these cells, a genetic modification must take place in the laboratory, which depends on optimal storage and transport of the cells. Until now, however, such transport could not be successfully provided, leading to possible treatment failure, hence wasting a huge investment in time, money and - above all - hope. A Fraunhofer start-up can now offer innovative help.

(Transport)-flaws in the system

Researchers and doctors frequently have the need to store and transport cells to clients, research partners, other institutes, or industry partners. Up to now cells had to be frozen in order to be transported. Not only did the freezing take several hours, but the cell culture growth was interrupted owing to the freeze-thaw cycle. Ice crystals developed and serious impairment took place as it leads to cell injury and potential cell death. Additionally, the medium to cryopreserve the cells is often toxic. Problems also included that regular incubators could neither provide an optimal temperature (depending on the use case), an optimal atmosphere (correct CO2 concentration) nor in-transport quality monitoring. Hence, cell transport was flawed which ultimately led to delays in planned research projects or treatment of illnesses, as damaged cell cultures had to be recreated, which could take up to 2 weeks or even in the worst case, the cells could simply not been transported

 

A Fraunhofer start-up as the problem-solver

Researchers from the Fraunhofer Research Institution for Marine Biotechnology and Cell Technology (EMB) in Lubeck, looked and researched for years in order to find a possible solution to this problem. After years of continuous research and development, the unique technology “Cellbox” now makes it possible to deliver living cell cultures, tissue, cell-based samples and related biomaterials under laboratory conditions. The mini incubator is relatively light, no larger than a parcel, and adjusts the temperature and gas atmosphere during shipment equivalent to required laboratory standards. This makes it possible to transport living cell cultures conveniently by rail or air fright without impairment. By cutting out the freezing process the risk of altering cell structure biology is minimised, resulting in an improved quality and higher standard of the product.

Especially for high-quality cell cultures, which are associated with high costs, this new process is particularly valuable. Use Cases include tissue engineering, In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) and the already mentioned CAR-T-cell therapy (Chimeric Antigen Receptor). This is a novel cancer immunotherapy, for which the correct transport of genetically engineered T cells is of utmost importance. The “Cellbox” allows an increasing number of hospitals to use these therapies to treat their patients.

Research, Founding, Break-Through: Cellbox’s future

Supported by Fraunhofer Venture, the project finally resulted in a spin-off in December 2016, Cellbox Solutions GmbH, which further developed the “Cellbox” in cooperation with the Fraunhofer EMB. Last January, the “Cellbox” was finally presented at ArabHealth, one of the largest fairs for medicine and health technology. Cellbox Solutions GmbH is planning to start selling and shipping this coming summer, with prospects looking good, as ArabHealth’s visitors’ interest was already great and the need for a mobile incubator was realised by numerous business sectors.