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In Vitro Cell Dev Biol. 1993 Mar;29A(3 Pt 1):249-54.

Culturing of primary hepatocytes as entrapped aggregates in a packed bed bioreactor: a potential bioartificial liver.

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Monsanto Company, St. Louis, Missouri 63167.


Conventional culture systems for hepatocytes generally involve cells cultured as flat, monolayer cells, with limited cell-cell contact, in a static pool of medium, unlike the liver in vivo where the parenchymal cells are cuboidal, with extensive cell-cell contact, and are continuously perfused with blood. We report here a novel bioreactor system for the culturing of primary hepatocytes with cuboidal cell shape, extensive cell-cell contact, and perfusing medium. The hepatocytes were inoculated into the bioreactor and allowed to recirculate at a rate optimal for them to collide and form aggregates. These newly-formed aggregates were subsequently entrapped in a packed bed of glass beads. The bioreactor was perfused with oxygenated nutrient medium, with controlled oxygen tension, pH, and medium perfusion rate. The hepatocytes were viable for up to the longest time point studied of 15 days in culture based on urea synthesis, albumin synthesis and cell morphology. Light microscopy studies of hepatocytes cultured for 15 days in the bioreactor showed interconnecting three-dimensional structures resembling the hepatic cell plate in the liver organ. Electron microscopy studies on the same cells revealed ultrastructure similar to the hepatocytes in vivo, including the presence of plentiful mitochondria, rough and smooth endoplasmic reticulum, glycogen granules, peroxisomes, and desmosomes. We believe that our hepatocyte bioreactor is a major improvement over conventional culture systems, with important industrial applications including toxicology, drug metabolism, and protein/peptide synthesis. The hepatocyte bioreactor concept may also be used as the basis for the development of a bioartificial liver to provide extracorporeal hepatic support to patients with hepatic failure.

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