Reduce the Life Sciences Supply Chain Plastic Footprint With Intensification | Corning

Reducing single-use plastic footprint is a common goal for modern laboratories and has been an area of interest for many years. Lab managers and equipment manufacturers alike strive to reduce plastic consumable use and find greener ways to conduct daily operations to achieve sustainability goals. Replacing plastic with glassware to run studies and procedures is one approach. However, this comes with its own set of challenges around clean up and sterilization, which can often add to waste by other routes.

But this isn't the only option, as Christie McCarthy, Director for Sustainability in the Life Sciences Division with Corning Incorporated, would like to point out.

"Intensifying production is another strategy for sustainability," according to McCarthy, who regards maximizing efforts to increase productivity within a defined footprint as another key way to reduce plastic consumption in the laboratory. "For example, if we're reducing product footprint while making just as many or more cells, then we're also effectively reducing the amount of plastic used per unit of output."

A History of Innovation and Sustainability

"With Corning, we have a long history of leveraging material science and innovating to solve customer problems," says McCarthy. There has long been a sustainability aspect for Corning Life Science manufacturing processes, which aim to maximize energy efficiency, and we are increasingly seeking to minimize the amount of plastic in our consumables and their packaging by designing and developing with sustainable intent.

Refining production processes and continually redesigning products for greater material efficiency are essential to reducing plastic usage in manufacturing. For instance, without compromising quality, certain containers can be made with thinner walls or an alternate design to use less plastic.

For example, making a simple change in format for a standard cell culture flask has not only saved time by supporting better handling in the lab, but also made the product more sustainable. Redesigning a tissue culture flask to alter its sharp angular shoulders for a more rounded profile reduced the amount of plastic for the consumable by around 23%.

"Think about how bottled water brands have minimized plastic," says McCarthy. "Remember how all of the bottles used to be really rigid? Now most of them are almost squishy because they're using so little plastic, but they still do the job. While we might not be able to go that far with lab products, we can still take inspiration from the example."

Intensification: Scaling Up for Sustainability

Scaling up is another strategy for sustainability, and it's an approach that often isn't given as much attention in the lab. Consider cell culture in terms of the automotive measure miles per gallon, but with "cells per …" as the important metric.

"You're looking at something like cells per square inch of plastic, or per gram used in manufacture of the culture dish," suggests McCarthy. "With intensification, you're effectively boosting the number of cells per unit of plastic in the product."

Corning innovation has resulted in a number of inter-related products that can enable researchers to scale up cell culture seamlessly without compromising quality. The HYPER® (High Yield PERformance) range of life science consumables deliver increased production in a relatively small physical footprint, allowing scientists to efficiently grow more cells at scale with less waste. The HYPER technology cell culture vessels offer multiple interconnected adherent surface layers made of gas-permeable film that maximize cell growth and productivity.

"With the intensification, it's not just the reduced burden on plastics. You need less media to produce more cells; you need fewer consumables."

As McCarthy notes, "With the intensification, it's not just the reduced burden on plastics. You need less media to produce more cells; you need fewer consumables."

These benefits are extremely valuable to clinicians working in cell and gene therapies and researchers harvesting products from transfected cells, for example.

Cutting the Plastic Footprint Down to Size

The Corning® Ascent™ Fixed Bed Reactor (FBR), features a packed polymer mesh which enables evenly distributed cell growth in a compact bioreactor footprint. This design accommodates scale-up vs. scale-out, which can help reduce a lab's plastic footprint. Cell and gene therapies require volume, which can be achieved by utilizing the Ascent FBR system. In terms of sustainability, Ascent offers savings in its physical size and in the number of campaigns required to grow a given batch of cells. And intensification is streamlined due to the Ascent system's built-in linear scalability from 1 to 1,000 square meters.

"If we reduce footprint as we make more cells, then we also reduce the amount of plastic consumed," notes McCarthy. "We've moved from standard flasks to platforms with multiple layers that concentrate cell production on stacked layers. Now we are introducing the Ascent platform, which is really turbocharging the scale of production you can achieve in a small footprint."

Comparing plastic footprints of various consumables and platforms for cell culture shows this quite clearly. For example, compared to the standard culture vessels, a HYPERFlask offers the equivalent growth area of 23 U-75 standard flasks, but with less than nine times the amount of plastic. [internal Corning data source] The largest Ascent, with an FBR surface area of 1,000 meters square, has more than 133,000 times the growth area packed into a relativity small footprint.

In addition to these and other sustainability achievements from Corning's long history of life sciences innovation, McCarthy predicts that intensifying production will lead to even more opportunities for labs to enhance their sustainability efforts. Take a look at how Corning is influencing sustainability in life sciences today.

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