Virus harvesting in perfusion culture: Choosing the right type of hollow fiber membrane

Alexander Nikolay, Joris de Grooth, Yvonne Genzel*, Jeffery A. Wood, Udo Reichl

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)
102 Downloads (Pure)


The use of bioreactors coupled to membrane-based perfusion systems enables very high cell and product concentrations in vaccine and viral vector manufacturing. Many virus particles, however, are not stable and either lose their infectivity or physically degrade resulting in significant product losses if not harvested continuously. Even hollow fiber membranes with a nominal pore size of 0.2 µm can retain much smaller virions within a bioreactor. Here, we report on a systematic study to characterize structural and physicochemical membrane properties with respect to filter fouling and harvesting of yellow fever virus (YFV; ~50 nm). In tangential flow filtration perfusion experiments, we observed that YFV retention was only marginally determined by nominal but by effective pore sizes depending on filter fouling. Evaluation of scanning electron microscope images indicated that filter fouling can be reduced significantly by choosing membranes with (i) a flat inner surface (low boundary layer thickness), (ii) a smooth material structure (reduced deposition), (iii) a high porosity (high transmembrane flux), (iv) a distinct pore size distribution (well-defined pore selectivity), and (v) an increased fiber wall thickness (larger effective surface area). Lowest filter fouling was observed with polysulfone (PS) membranes. While the use of a small-pore PS membrane (0.08 µm) allowed to fully retain YFV within the bioreactor, continuous product harvesting was achieved with the large-pore PS membrane (0.34 µm). Due to the low protein rejection of the latter, this membrane type could also be of interest for other applications, that is, recombinant protein production in perfusion cultures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3040-3052
Number of pages13
JournalBiotechnology and bioengineering
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2020


  • cell culture-based virus production
  • hollow fiber membrane
  • perfusion
  • SEM


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