Tissue engineering approaches to developing functional substitutes are often highly complex, multivariate systems where many aspects of the biomaterials, bio-regulatory factors or cell sources may be controlled in an effort to enhance tissue formation. Furthermore, success is based on multiple performance criteria reflecting both the quantity and quality of the tissue produced. Managing the trade-offs between different performance criteria is a challenge. A “windows of operation” tool that graphically represents feasible operating spaces to achieve user-defined levels of performance has previously been described by researchers in the bio-processing industry. This paper demonstrates the value of “windows of operation” to the tissue engineering field using a perfusion-scaffold bioreactor system as a case study. In our laboratory, perfusion bioreactor systems are utilized in the context of bone tissue engineering to enhance the osteogenic differentiation of cell-seeded scaffolds. A key challenge of such perfusion bioreactor systems is to maximize the induction of osteogenesis but minimize cell detachment from the scaffold. Two key operating variables that influence these performance criteria are the mean scaffold pore size and flow-rate. Using cyclooxygenase-2 and osteopontin gene expression levels as surrogate indicators of osteogenesis, we employed the “windows of operation” methodology to rapidly identify feasible operating ranges for the mean scaffold pore size and flow-rate that achieved user-defined levels of performance for cell detachment and differentiation. Incorporation of such tools into the tissue engineer's armory will hopefully yield a greater understanding of the highly complex systems used and help aid decision making in future translation of products from the bench top to the market place. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2012; 109: 3161–3171. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
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