Regenerative therapies for the treatment of peripheral nerve and spinal cord injuries can require hundreds of millions of autologous cells. Current treatments involve the harvest of Schwann cells (SCs) from nerves; however, this is an invasive procedure. Therefore, a promising alternative is using skin-derived Schwann cells (Sk-SCs), in which between 3-5 million cells can be harvested from a standard skin biopsy. However, traditional static planar culture is still inefficient at expanding cells to clinically relevant numbers. As a result, bioreactors can be used to develop reproducible bioprocesses for the large-scale expansion of therapeutic cells. Here, we present a proof-of-concept SC manufacturing bioprocess using rat Sk-SCs. With this integrated process, we were able to simulate a feasible bioprocess, taking into consideration the harvest and shipment of cells to a production facility, the generation of the final cell product, and the cryopreservation and shipment of cells back to the clinic and patient. This process started with 3 million cells and inoculated and expanded them to over 200 million cells in 6 days. Following the harvest and post-harvest cryopreservation and thaw, we were able to maintain 150 million viable cells that exhibited a characteristic Schwann cell phenotype throughout each step of the process. This process led to a 50-fold expansion, producing a clinically relevant number of cells in a 500 mL bioreactor in just 1 week, which is a dramatic improvement over current methods of expansion.
Keywords: Schwann cell; bioprocess; bioreactor; nerve repair; scale-up.