Recent developments in gene therapy using adenoviral (Ad) vectors have fueled renewed interest in the 293 human embryonic kidney cell line traditionally used to produce these vectors. Low-glutamine fed-batch cultures of serum-free, suspension cells in a 5-L bioreactor were conducted. Our aim was to tighten the control on glutamine metabolism and hence reduce ammonia and lactate accumulation. Online direct measurement of glutamine was effected via a continuous cell-exclusion system that allows for aseptic, cell-free sampling of the culture broth. A feedback control algorithm was used to maintain the glutamine concentration at a level as low as 0.1 mM with a concentrated glucose-free feed medium. This was tested in two media: a commercial formulation (SFM II) and a chemically defined DMEM/F12 formulation. The fed-batch and batch cultures were started at the same glucose concentration, and it was not controlled at any point in the fed-batch cultures. In all cases, fed-batch cultures with double the cell density and extended viable culture time compared to the batch cultures were achieved. An infection study on the high density fed-batch culture using adenovirus-green fluorescent protein (Ad-GFP) construct was also done to ascertain the production capacity of the culture. Virus titers from the infected fed-batch culture showed that there is an approximately 10-fold improvement over a batch infection culture. The results have shown that the control of glutamine at low levels in cultures is sufficient to yield significant improvements in both cell densities and viral production. The applicability of this fed-batch system to cultures in different media and also infected cultures suggests its potential for application to generic mammalian cell cultures.
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