Cell culture incubators are important devices that have a rich history dating back many scientific generations. In fact, Louis Pasteur used a small crawl space under his staircase as an incubator! Modern incubators have come a long way since then, and are built with design elements and features to meet both the demands of multiple users as well as an expanding range of cell culture types. Due to their widespread applications, many factors must be considered in choosing an optimal, adaptable, and future proof piece of equipment for your lab.
One of the first things you should do is an analysis of the types of cells and applications that the cell culture incubator will need to support. This involves not just an assessment of current operations, but some foresight into future experiments and research areas. Some questions to ask yourself may include:
Once you have established what type of use your incubator will have and what expectations it will need to meet, you can move on to considering the specific components of the device. Key factors to consider include the size of the device, the temperature and gas control systems, the type of sterilization and decontamination, and how future-proof the incubator will be in your lab.
The size of cell culture incubator you need will depend both on the scale of usage as well as the space allocated for the device. Although the latter can sometimes be flexible, the former is typically not, and extra space may indeed serve the needs of future expansion in the scale and diversity of experiments.
Temperature control is perhaps the more important consideration when selecting a cell culture incubator. Again, regardless of whether your current experiments are highly sensitive to temperature fluctuations, keep in mind the emerging needs of the lab and future-proof accordingly.
Whether CO2, O2, or N2, the incubator’s gas control systems are vitally important in the exposure of cell cultures to the specific environmental conditions needed for growth.
For this factor it is especially important to keep in mind the types of cells you will be incubating. Some culture types may demand tight control of gas levels, and therefore, control, range, and uniformity should be considered accordingly.
Both sterilization and decontamination are extremely important considerations when selecting a system suited for your present and future applications.
New cell culture incubators are designed to match the evolving nature of today's research labs, with a wide variety of incubators available to match any and all needs your lab could have. For example, Thermo Fisher’s line of CO2 incubators includes seven different main models, each with their own range of advanced features. Whether you need a compact space-saving unit or a large incubator with high throughput capability, their incubators provide optimal cell growth, valuable contamination control technologies, and advanced design for highly critical applications. Offering your choice of in-chamber CO2 measuring technologies, oxygen control ranges, and direct or water-jacketed heating, the flexibility and customization of these incubators are the definition of future-proof design.
Additional new technology features and accessories include:
These capabilities, while certainly not a requirement of all labs, are meant to support streamlined use and access, as well as compliance with regulatory guidelines such as ISO and GMP.
New incubator technologies may add significant value and return on investment, but it can also be important to stay within the actual needs of your lab.
Many incubator models are traditionally designed to match the general needs of a lab. For instance, should you need a straightforward water-jacketed device without the need for tight temperature tolerances and high functioning sterilization features, there is a more basic model available.
In the same product line, there may be more complex models with a greater range of features and higher level stringency controls as well. The model-specific functionality is countered by the fact that, should your needs change down the road, an upgrade to an entirely new unit may be required.
In summary, although traditional technologies have served the cell culture audience well, new technologies can add significant flexibility, value, and return on investment. When looking to buy a new incubator, careful consideration of all of these factors should be performed in light of both your current and future cell culture needs.
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Updated March 23, 2022