Our journey through the years reflects our dedicated adherence to our vision statement. Written by the founders of Synthecon, Incorporated Charles D. Anderson and Ray Schwarz, it states:
“Our vision is to be the unrivaled leader of 3D cell culture technology by continually innovating and exploring
the potential of the rotary cell culture system, and thereby making our contribution to a healthier world.”
Since our beginning in 1990, Synthecon’s technology has developed, evolved, and expanded over the years.
NASA, Rotating Wall Vessels and Microgravity Research
During the shuttle missions in the late 1980s, the NASA Life Sciences Division at Johnson Space Center conducted experiments to study the effects of the microgravity conditions of space, on cell behavior. The cells were cultured in a self-sustaining bioreactor device throughout the mission. However, in the time between the cargo’s pre-launch loading up until the orbital flight phase, and upon reentry, the cells would not be subjected to microgravity conditions. To address this problem, NASA engineers developed the Rotating Wall Vessel (RWV) bioreactor to provide a “simulated microgravity” environment during the non-orbital phases of the shuttle mision. The rotary motion of the device counteracted gravitational force to keep cells in a "simulated microgravity" environment.
Unexpectedly, it was noted, during the ground validation studies, that cells introduced into the rotating wall vessel (RWV) bioreactors produced three-dimensional spheroids. Furthermore, when multiple cell types were co-cultured in the bioreactor, they spontaneously formed tissue-like aggregates. From these findings, NASA scientists realized that the ground applications of RWV bioreactors would prove to be a unique tool for research in the life sciences. At that point Charles D. Anderson and Ray Schwarz, the project manager and chief engineer for the project, realized that this new technology needed to be made commercially available to the wider research community and applied to and were granted a license from NASA to manufacture and sell the Rotating Wall Vessel under the trademark Rotary Cell Culture SystemTM (RCCS).
Synthecon, Incorporated, Challenges and Successes
As with the start of any business, Synthecon faced its share of challenges in its initial years. The greatest hurdle was that the technology was ahead of its time. Most investigators at that time were satisfied with the results they obtained using conventional 2-D culture and felt no need to change. Consequently, our first step was to establish the advantages of the Rotary Cell Culture System (RCCS) compared to traditional 2-D cell culture technology. With this goal in mind, Synthecon strategically placed RCCS units with several leading investigators to test the technology in their particular areas of research.
At the same time, NASA Life Sciences continued their studies utilizing the bioreactors, and, based on their novel findings, decided to create an extramural funding mechanism to allow outside investigators to use the new technology and Synthecon was designated to supply the hardware to the grantees. Business grew significantly during this period as a result of the NASA-funded researchers’ purchases of RCCSs. The grants resulted in a number of papers that began to establish the efficacy of the RCCS in creating 3D cell culture models vastly superior to the conventional 2D culture technology.
In 1993, Synthecon began international distribution in Europe, and by 1995, had established worldwide distribution channels including the rapidly expanding Pacific Rim. As our customer base has expanded, so too has the published literature on the RCCS. Take a look at our Bibliography to view the multitude of published RCCS applications.
Our Current Direction
In 2002, with a change of management, Synthecon has added a new focus to its original goal of making NASA 3D cell culture technology available to researchers worldwide. It is now also our intention to expand this technology into cell therapeutic applications. With this objective in mind, we have undertaken several research projects, two of which have been funded by NIH SBIR grants, one to improve the outcome of pancreatic islet transplantation and another to expand hematopoietic stem cells from umbilical cord blood through a tissue-engineered bone marrow analog. We also encourage our customers to work with us to develop other potential cell therapy applications for the RCCS.