Lukas Königer,  Universitätsklinikum Würzburg, Lehrstuhl Tissue Engineering und Regenerative Medizin

The discovery and design of specific drugs and therapeutic agents are major drivers for increasing investment in healthcare worldwide. The costs for their development are mainly determined by the expenditures of the clinical phase. On average, only one in ten drug candidates passes clinical trials despite having shown good results in the preclinical phase. One strategy to reduce this discrepancy in the drug evaluation might be to use in vitro testing systems with improved predictive power in research before a drug candidate is used in clinical trials. Already two-dimensional (2D) cell culture enables the evaluation of drugs and their impact on human cells of the tissue of interest. However, a monolayer of human cells does not resemble the complexity and functionality of a whole organ or tissue. Thus, essential tissue functions are not represented in a 2D cell culture.

To overcome these drawbacks, tissue engineering focused on the development of three-dimensional (3D) in vitro cell culture systems. The 3D environment, commonly given by a biological or artificial scaffold, seeded with human cells, supports a tissue-specific morphology and functionality of the models. This increased complexity mimics the in vivo tissue and thereby strengthens the predictive power compared to traditional 2D culture. Consequently also the manufacturing processes of these tissue models are more challenging. In order to achieve the availability of standardized test systems for industrial use and thus to be able to use the advantages of these models, the influence of the technical staff must be reduced in our perspective. In the last few years we have developed a robotic system that allows more and more cell culture operations to be automated. After the concept has been presented, examples will be given to show which processes can already be automated and which special challenges arise in this context.