The 300MICRONS GmbH KIT Spinoff Company Develops and Produces Miniaturized 3D Cell Culture Systems.
For nearly twenty years, Professor Dr. Eric Gottwald has conducted research at the KIT to find out how cells can be cultured in three dimensions. Cell culture experiments are important especially in biological and pharmaceutical research and in biotechnology.
Unlike 2D culture vessels, such as the flat Petri dishes, 3D culture systems guarantee a more organotypical growth of cells. As a consequence, results can be transferred more effectively to the human organism. The technology of manufacturing these systems is based on work of the co-founders Dr. Stefan Giselbrecht and Dr. Roman Truckenmüller, two former KIT staff members.
The idea to found a company was hedged by the team well over fifteen years ago. “However, at that time, there was demonstrably no market whatsoever. We were pioneers in our technology,” explains biologist Gottwald. Thus, the team first used a patented manufacturing technique to make a product for research purposes of their own. However, for a couple of years the trend in fundamental research and in industrial use has been in favor of 3D culture systems. In 2014, the three scientists therefore made another attempt at setting up a company. The young company, 300MICRONS, initially employed machines developed in house and a lot of manual work. In this way, 300MICRONS was able to generate its first revenue even before the official establishment of the company.
The founding team introduced extensive expert knowledge into the company: Engineering, microsystems technology, materials science, biology. “As a purely scientific team of founders, we obtained support in management, marketing and sales. Peter Haug, today a member of the advisory board of the company, accompanied us as our Business Angel,” says Gottwald. Also participation in founders’ competitions, such as Science4Life, had helped in optimizing the business plan and advancing the company’s development. Gottwald also likes the proximity to the KIT: “In addition to the KIT infrastructure and the monetary support, which allowed us to conduct product development close to research, we benefitted from advice about technology utilization and the patent portfolio.”
The basic product of 300MICRONS is a film substrate for 3D cell culturing used in combination with a so-called microtiter plate. These plates made of polymer are part of the standard outfit of biological laboratories. The plates are made up of several “cups” of a few millimeters in diameter which can be filled with cell material by means of pipettes. The films produced by 300MICRONS are attached to the microtiter plates by bonding, thus constituting the bottom of the cups. The film has tiny recesses, the so-called microcavity arrays, of only some 300 µm diameter. In this way, tiny 3D reaction vessels are produced which can hold up to 10,000 cells. The behavior of the cell cultures can be automatically treated under a microscope for high-throughput and high-content screening. “The substrates are produced by microthermal molding of polymer films supplied externally. The porosity, film material and film thickness as well as the depth and geometry of the cavities can be set individually in accordance with customer wishes,” says Gottwald. Besides substrates for 3D culturing, 300MICRONS also offers pre-cultured cells and conducts contract research on the basis of its in-house products.
The challenges to be met in the future now lie in adapting the corporate structures to the firm’s steady growth. The new production spaces and laboratories into which the company moved in 2015 offer room for expanding the production. For this purpose, new machines must be set up and the production line must be automated in some part. Another challenge is the reliable supply of films: “Only very few suppliers offer films of the materials, strengths, and properties required. In-house production of the films is something we are considering for the future,” explains Gottwald, the entrepreneur.
Prof. Dr. Eric Gottwald
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