Volumetric imaging of human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs) for non-destructive quantification of 3D cell culture growth

Oscar R. Benavides, Holly C. Gibbs, Berkley P. White, Roland Kaunas, Carl A. Gregory, Alex J. Walsh, Kristen C. Maitland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The adoption of cell-based therapies into the clinic will require tremendous large-scale expansion to satisfy future demand, and bioreactor-microcarrier cultures are best suited to meet this challenge. The use of spherical microcarriers, however, precludes in-process visualization and monitoring of cell number, morphology, and culture health. The development of novel expansion methods also motivates the advancement of analytical methods used to characterize these microcarrier cultures. A robust optical imaging and image-analysis assay to non-destructively quantify cell number and cell volume was developed. This method preserves 3D cell morphology and does not require membrane lysing, cellular detachment, or exogenous labeling. Complex cellular networks formed in microcarrier aggregates were imaged and analyzed in toto. Direct cell enumeration of large aggregates was performed in toto for the first time. This assay was successfully applied to monitor cellular growth of mesenchymal stem cells attached to spherical hydrogel microcarriers over time. Elastic scattering and fluorescence lightsheet microscopy were used to quantify cell volume and cell number at varying spatial scales. The presented study motivates the development of on-line optical imaging and image analysis systems for robust, automated, and non-destructive monitoring of bioreactor-microcarrier cell cultures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0282298
Pages (from-to)e0282298
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2023


  • Humans
  • Cell Culture Techniques/methods
  • Cell Culture Techniques, Three Dimensional
  • Bioreactors
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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