Recombinant protein therapeutics have become important components of the modern medicine. Majority of them are produced with mammalian cells that are cultured either through adherent culturing, in which cells are cultured on substrates, or suspension culturing, in which cells are suspended and cultured in agitated cell culture medium in a culture vessel. The adherent cell culturing method is limited by its low yield. In suspension culturing, cells need extensive genetic manipulation to grow as single cells at high density, which is time- and labor-consuming. Here, we report a new method, which utilizes a thermoreversible hydrogel as the scaffold for culturing protein-expressing cells. The hydrogel scaffolds not only provide 3D spaces for the cells, but also act as physical barriers to prevent excessive cellular agglomeration and protect cells from the hydrodynamic stresses. As a result, cells can grow at high viability, high growth rate, and extremely high yield even without genetic manipulations. The cell yield in the hydrogels is around 20 times of the suspension culturing. In addition, the protein productivity per cell per day in the hydrogel is higher than the adherent culturing method. This new method is simple, scalable and defined. It will be of great value for both the research laboratories and pharmaceutical industry for producing proteins.
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