Wireless sensor capsules monitor production of biopharmaceuticals

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A sensor capsule designed to move freely through bioreactors monitoring their environment could improve the quality of biopharmaceutical treatments.

Biopharmaceuticals, or treatments such as vaccines and gene, cell, and protein therapies that are derived from biological material, is a growing area of medicine. But producing medicines from materials like living tissue and cells within bioreactors requires careful monitoring.

The wireless sensor capsules, being developed by researchers at the Tyndall National Institute, Cork, and the National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training (NIBRT) in Dublin, are designed to move around the bioreactor, monitoring factors that might affect product quality or yield.

Existing sensors, in contrast, are fixed in one position, meaning they can only monitor material that directly passes over them, according to Dr Karen Twomey, staff researcher at Tyndall.

The capsules contain different sensors and associated circuitry, encapsulated in a biocompatible packaging.

In the first generation of the device, which has already been built, an interface circuit connects to the different sensors in the capsule, which are also connected to a power supply and microcontroller. A miniaturised RF transmitter allows the device to communicate wirelessly with an external receiver.

By continuously monitoring the environment within the bioreactors, the capsule will help biopharmaceutical manufacturers to more precisely control the process, said Twomey.

In particular, this could improve the ability of biopharmaceutical manufacturers to produce therapeutic proteins, enhancing their quality and shortening the length of time it takes to commercialise the treatments. It could also reduce the overall cost of the treatments.

The project, known as the Process Analytical Technology Sensor Capsule (PATsule), is backed by Enterprise Ireland’s Commercialisation Fund. The researchers now plan to redesign the sensor instrumentation, and optimise it for use within the capsule.