Lighting the Fire
by Joseph P. Ferry
As most life scientist will attest, growing cells in a laboratory can be a costly, time-consuming process with no guarantee of success. The hard plastic bottle used in most labs are expensive, take up lots of storage space, and need to be kept in constant motion to achieve optimal results.
Greg Krug, president of Lampire Biological Laboratories and 1977 Delaware Valley College grad, has come up with what he calls "an elegantly simple" approach to growing cells, a product that may eventually become the industry standard. Developed over four years in the company's biotechnology facility in Pipersville, Bucks County and introduced into the market in January, 2006, the Lampire Cell Culture Bag is made of a proprietary ionomer plastic material that is so gas permeable that it allows the free exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, yet it is strong enough that it can be dropped directly into an incubator filled with liquid nitrogen. In addition to saving storage space, the bags are optically clear which means their contents can be examined under a microscope.
The result of Lampire's innovation is a product that, according to independent tests, provides increased cell counts faster, at a lower cost, and with a reduced risk of contamination since the bags are disposable.
Already well-received among scientists, Krug, who founded Lampire soon after graduating from DelVal, predicts the bag will play a key role in stem cell and cancer cell research. Some day, it could also be used to grow human organs, he says.
"We're very proud of the product," says Krug. "We were looking for an economical way to grow cells simply and decided we could come up with our own solution."
Such creative thinking is one reason Lampire has grown into a $10 million a year business that supplies a variety of animal blood products used in research and diagnostic applications. The company has about 100 employees, about 10 percent of them DelVal grads, working at six facilities.
In fact, the company was founded on an innovative idea. While pursuing his degree in animal science, Krug was working part time at an equine facility when owner Craig Tarler decided to sell.
After touring the facility, one prospective buyer decided he wasn't interested in acquiring the complex but would be interest in buying defibrinated horse and sheep blood if Krug and Tarler could supply it. At the time, defibrinated blood, which is collected without the use of an anti-coagulant and is valued because of its purity-was hard to come by. Suppliers were loathe to share their secret for collecting the blood that way.
For Tarler, a former public relations and marketing professional with no real experience in the life sciences, it represented an entrepreneurial opportunity. For Krug, it was a scientific challenge.
Krug developed a crude process that involved a flask with marbles in it and an electric shaker. At one point, he tried using a sanding machine to perform that delicate shaking crucial to the process. After several tries, he finally came up with technique that wasn't pretty but was effective.
Tarler eventually sold the farm and built a laboratory in his garage. With horses and sheep ear-tagged at several farms in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Krug and Tarler made their rounds collecting defibrinated blood to sell to microbiological media producers.
After Krug graduated from DelVal, Lampire Biological Laboratories began to grow, supplying animal blood products from a variety of species including chicken, horse and cow serums used in diagnostic tests. Two years later, Tarler went back to the public relation industry and Krug took over the company. By 1982, Lampire had entered the immunology field, collecting antibodies that could be used in diagnostic tests.
One of the earliest uses for the antibodies was in home pregnancy test, a market that exploded in the early 1980s. The company also began supplying blood-related products used in immunochemistry, biotechnology, and drug discovery. Today, Lampire's blood related products are in demand by companies that develop drug therapies, especially chemotherapy, and by the makers of analyzers that detect illegal drug use.
Lampire operates five facilities in three Pennsylvania counties. Its corporate headquarters and 12,000 square foot Biotech Research and resources Center are in Pipersville, Bucks County.
About five miles to the north, in Ottsville, the company operates a 40-acre farm where it raises horses, sheep, cattle and other animals that provide the blood donations. In its Coopersburg, Lehigh County, laboratory raw material are processed, including protein purification, bulk filtration, and antibodies. Bedford County is home to a 400 acre farm that produces custom anti-serum, bulk serum, and red cell production programs. Nearby, 18,000-square foot, state-of-the-art biotechnology facility.
In an industry where purity of process and exacting standards are a priority, Krug is almost fanatical about ensuring the company's herd of donor animals is treated well. Lampire's laboratories operate on an equally high standard, complying with all Food and Drug Administration, GLP (Good Laboratory Practices) and cGMP (current Good Manufacturing Practices.)
A self admitted "flag-waver for Pennsylvania." Krug is a vocal proponent of growing the biotechnology industry in the state. As an active member of Pennsylvania Bio, the industry organization formed with funds from the state's portion of the settlement with tobacco companies a few years back, he would like to see incentives provided to keep innovative products and companies from moving out of state. He favors a system similar to what is used in the horse-racing industry, which rewards home-grown winner s with bonus purses.
Krug is still active with DelVal, regularly appearing at Career Day, offering internships and working with faculty members to locate equipment. In 2006, he served on the focus group that looked at all aspects of the college's operations.
"I wanted to come back because this is my home," said Lynette D'Elia '01. "I felt a lot of loyalty here, which I didn't feel in the other place. I am so happy to be back"
Encouraging Young Scientific Minds
Recently Greg Krug and Lampire Biological Laboratories worked with Pennridge High School students, known as the "Clean Freaks" on a special project. eCYBERMISSION was a completion sponsored by the U.S. Army and was a web based science, math, and technology completion. The "Clean Freaks" were recognized by judges for studying how proper hand washing after using the restroom might reduce the spread of disease, In contrast to their hypothesis, the team found the number of bacteria actually increased when student washed their hands ad concluded this was due to the large number of bacteria on the soap dispenser and hand dryers. This discovery changed the way hand dryers were perceived in public bathrooms.